Alabama filed an emergency application in the Supreme Court on Monday evening, asking the justices to keep in place for now a congressional map that a lower court had found failed to comply with orders to establish a second majority-Black district or something “close to it.”
The application means that the court is again poised to consider the role of race in establishing voting districts for federal elections, three months after the justices, in a surprise ruling, rejected an earlier iteration of the map that they said had diluted the power of Black voters.
The request for emergency relief came in response to a ruling from a three-judge panel, which found that the Republican-controlled Legislature had most likely violated a landmark civil rights law because it had not drawn a second district aimed at allowing Black voters the chance to elect representatives. Instead, over the objections of Democrats, the Legislature approved a map that increased the percentage of Black voters in one of the state’s six majority-white congressional districts to about 40 percent, from roughly 30 percent.
“The law requires the creation of an additional district that affords Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” the panel wrote last week. The judges added that the Legislature’s proposal “plainly fails to do so,” and ordered a cartographer and special master to draw a map instead.
In seeking emergency relief as an appeal moves forward, Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, acknowledged that the Legislature had not added a second majority-Black district to its map as dictated by the federal court, but said its new map still complied with the law.
“The ‘inconsistent treatment’ of the old plan is gone,” Mr. Marshall wrote.
Unless the Supreme Court pauses the lower court’s ruling, he added, “the state will have no meaningful opportunity to appeal before the 2023 plan is replaced by a court-drawn map that no state could constitutionally enact.”
He wrote that a decision by the Supreme Court to pause the lower court’s ruling would serve “the public interest by preserving the opportunity for the legislatively enacted 2023 plan to be used in the upcoming election, rather than a court-drawn, race-segregated plan.”
Alabama asked the justices to act by Oct. 1, citing the need to prepare for the 2024 elections.
The outcome of any decision could alter the makeup of the House, where Republicans hold a razor-thin majority. It would also offer a crucial test of how broad the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alabama will be and how much legal protection minority groups will have to elect representatives of their choosing as similar disputes over redistricting play out in other states.
Prominent political figures have closely watched the redistricting effort.
In a statement, Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general and head of the National Redistricting Foundation, the Democratic group that has backed several voting rights-based map challenges, including the one in Alabama, called on the Supreme Court to reject the state’s request.
“This is a shameful and arrogant continuation of a sordid history in Alabama that denies equal rights to Black Alabamians, no matter how the United States Supreme Court rules,” Mr. Holder said.
Mr. Marshall contended that the federal court misinterpreted the requirements for a congressional map that would satisfy the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark civil rights law that forbids racial bias in political mapmaking, saying that was only one possible way to comply with the law. He said Alabama had followed another option, including by sufficiently redrawing the lines to keep together counties and communities with similar economic and geographic issues. That included a region of the state known as the Black Belt, a mostly rural area named for its fertile soil that historically has had a large number of Black voters.
The Supreme Court’s earlier ruling in the case handed voting rights activists a long-sought victory when it reaffirmed, in a 5-to-4 decision, the protections of the Voting Rights Act, whose provisions the court has otherwise gutted in recent years.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has often voted to limit voting rights, wrote the majority opinion in a decision that was joined by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and the court’s liberal wing.
The map of Alabama congressional districts originally created by Republicans after the 2020 census provided for only one majority-Black district among the state’s seven congressional seats, although Black people make up more than a quarter of the state’s voting-age population.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Legislature approved its revised map in July. It not only failed to create a second majority-Black district, but decreased the percentage of Black voters in the existing majority-Black district to about 51 percent, from about 55 percent.
The special master appointed by the three-judge panel will have until Sept. 25 to produce three proposals that comply with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. A new map must include a second majority-Black district or otherwise offer Black voters “an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”