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Alabama congressional map struck down again for diluting Black voting power

A panel of three federal judges rejected Alabama’s latest version of its congressional map Tuesday, saying the state’s Republican-led legislature did not follow a court order backed by the U.S. Supreme Court to comply with the Voting Rights Act when it last redrew districts in July.

The ruling — which Alabama is planning to appeal — further bolsters challenges of maps drawn by GOP-led legislatures in several other Southern states, where Democrats and civil rights groups have brought lawsuits arguing that Republicans are illegally diluting the power of Black voters. The outcomes of these challenges have the potential to shift the political makeup of federal and state legislative bodies, including which party controls Congress.

The judges in the Alabama case have directed a special master and cartographer to create three proposed remedial plans. The plans are due to be filed “no later than the close of business” on Sept. 25. Parties in the cases can subsequently file any written objections to the new plans to the court.

“We do not take lightly federal intrusion into a process ordinarily reserved for the State Legislature. But we have now said twice that this Voting Rights Act case is not close,” the judges wrote in the order. “And we are deeply troubled that the State enacted a map that the State readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires.”

The order also says the judges were “disturbed by the evidence that the State delayed remedial proceedings but ultimately did not even nurture the ambition to provide the required remedy.”

The U.S. Supreme Court had issued a decision in June upholding the panel’s earlier ruling, which found that the Alabama legislature drew congressional districts that unlawfully diluted the political power of Black residents in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel had ordered the state to produce a new congressional map that included either an additional majority-Black district or a second district in which Black voters otherwise would have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.

Alabama is now planning to try to escalate the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court again.

“While we are disappointed in today’s decision, we strongly believe that the Legislature’s map complies with the Voting Rights Act and the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court,” the Alabama attorney general’s office said in a statement. “We intend to promptly seek review from the Supreme Court to ensure that the State can use its lawful congressional districts in 2024 and beyond.”

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs in Allen v. Milligan said the court’s decision Tuesday shows that Alabama is on the losing side of history, comparing the congressional map battle to segregation in the state 60 years ago.

“We demand that Alabama again move out of the way and obey our laws — we demand our voting rights,” the plaintiffs said.

In a statement, Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D) called the court’s order “a victory for Alabama voters.”

“From the beginning of this process, all we have asked for from the legislative majority is fairness, transparency, and adherence to the rule of law,” he continued. “It is simply not right that Alabama Black voters — who represent 27% of Alabama’s population — only have 14% representation in Congress.”


Alabama’s latest version of its congressional map includes only one majority-Black district

Share of Black adults,

by congressional district

0

20

40

60%

50.65%

Each dot represents 1 Black adult

Huntsville

Birmingham

Tuscaloosa

Phenix

City

7th District

Montgomery

Dothan

Mobile

50 MILES

Source: 2020 Census, TIGER/Line, Alabama state

legislature

Alabama’s latest version of its congressional map includes only one majority-Black district

Share of Black adults,

by congressional district

Each dot represents 1 Black adult

Huntsville

0

20

40

60%

Birmingham

50.65%

Tuscaloosa

Phenix

City

7th District

Montgomery

Dothan

Mobile

50 MILES

Source: 2020 Census, TIGER/Line, Alabama state legislature

The redrawn map was approved by the Republican-controlled Alabama legislature in July. It apportioned the state’s 7th Congressional District to include a population that is 50.65 percent Black, and its 2nd Congressional District to have a population that’s 40 percent Black. The Alabama Senate voted 24-6 to pass the new plan, and the House approved the map 75-28.

Challengers argued that lowering the percentage of Black voters in the map’s sole majority-Black district and allocating a 40 percent Black voting population to another district did not meet the court’s requirement to produce a district that is “something quite close to” a Black majority.

In Tuesday’s order, the panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division, took particular issue with the legislature’s failure to comply with a federal court order.

“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” the judges wrote. “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 2023 Plan plainly fails to do so.”

Recent Supreme Court rulings over districting maps have given Democrats a boost heading into the 2024 elections, and future decisions in other pending cases could further shape the makeup of voting districts across the South.

By upholding a section of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has essentially forced the Louisiana legislature to redraw congressional districts in a manner that would give Black voters more power.

A trial beginning Tuesday in Georgia could help Democrats gain a U.S. House seat and multiple seats in the state legislature if a judge strikes down GOP-drawn maps for illegally diluting Black voting power. A similar lawsuit brought by civil rights organizations is taking place in Tennessee.

And later this year, the Supreme Court is slated to consider South Carolina’s effort to reinstate a congressional redistricting plan that a lower court found had “exiled” 30,000 Black voters to create a district safer for a White Republican candidate.

In a joint statement, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) said they were pleased by Tuesday’s decision, asserting that “bad faith actors in Alabama and across the country have shown that they are dead set on making it more difficult for Americans to vote.” They also renewed calls for the Senate to advance voting rights legislation.

JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, director of the ACLU of Alabama, which was involved in the case, suggested that the actions of Alabama officials were particularly flagrant.

“Twice, Alabama lawmakers have been asked to draw fair congressional districts that give Black Alabamians the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. And twice, a panel of federal judges have found that Alabama lawmakers failed to do so,” she said in a statement. “Elected officials ignored their responsibilities and chose to violate our democracy. We hope the court’s special master helps steward a process that ensures a fair map that Black Alabamians and our state deserve.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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