Durbin: The Supreme Court Is Dismantling Voting Rights, Congress Must Swiftly Enact The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

On the Senate floor, Durbin condemns the Court’s divided ruling in the Alabama election map case and calls for passage of voting rights legislation

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today condemned the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling yesterday which blocked a lower court ruling that required Alabama lawmakers to draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections to protect the rights of Black voters, who are currently gerrymandered into a single district.  Because of this ruling, Alabama’s upcoming elections will be conducted under a map drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature that contains one majority-Black district—despite more than a quarter of the state’s population being Black.


“Yesterday’s decision is the latest example of the Supreme Court hacking away at the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most important civil rights laws in our history, a law singularly responsible for decades of progress and minority representation in public office,” Durbin said.  “As a result of these decisions, legal protections for voters of color throughout the country are being systematically dismantled by the Republican Party through state legislatures and, sadly, by our federal courts.”


In its ruling, the Court’s conservative majority failed to provide any substantive reasoning for its decision—employing what is known as a “shadow docket” in judicial review, which can hinder public confidence and leave lower courts in the dark about how to apply the Court’s precedent moving forward.


Before being elevated to the Supreme Court, this case had been considered by a three-judge district court panel in Alabama, which ruled unanimously that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, citing that it would deny the right to vote to Black Americans.  Notably, of this three-judge panel, two of the judges were appointed by former President Trump.


Durbin continued, “Congress must act. We must restore the Voting Rights Act to its full power and potential, and we can do that by enacting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  This legislation would strengthen and modernize the Voting Rights Act's protections, including by requiring Supreme Court justices to actually explain their reasoning behind their decisions when they overturn a lower court's decision on a voting rights case.  Is that too much to ask?”


In her dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote that this ruling “does a disservice to our own appellate processes… does a disservice to the District Court, which meticulously applied this Court's longstanding voting-rights precedent. And most of all, it does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”


Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.


Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.


Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.