Standing at a microphone in the Alabama Statehouse before lawmakers vote on new congressional districts, Rep. The state’s Chris England says state reform in the Deep South has often only happened by federal court order.
Democratic lawmakers accused Republicans of repeating history and rejecting a judicial order to create a second majority-Black district in the state or “something close to it.”
“Alabama does what Alabama does. Ultimately, what we hope, I think, at some point, is that the federal court does what it always does in Alabama: Force us to do the right thing. The courts should always step in and save us from ourselves,” said England, a Black lawmaker from Tuscaloosa.
The fight over whether Alabama’s congressional map complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is now moving back to federal court as state Republicans submit their new plan to the same three-judge panel that overturned previous districts.
The outcome could have nationwide ramifications as the case re-evaluates the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for redistricting. It could also affect the partisan leanings of an Alabama congressional district in the 2024 election with control of the US House of Representatives at stake.
Alabama lawmakers on Friday approved new district lines six weeks after a surprise U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a lower court ruling that the state’s previous map — which featured one majority-Black district out of seven in the state that was 27% Black — likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of Black residents.
The state’s Republican legislative supermajority increased the percentage of Black voters in the majority-white 2nd Congressional District, which is currently represented by Republican Rep. Barry Moore, from about 31% to almost 40%. The plan also lowered the Black voting-age population in the state’s lone majority Black district, currently represented by Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, to 50.65%.
A group of voters who won the US Supreme Court decision announced that they will challenge the new plan. The three-judge panel set an Aug. 14 hearing on the new plan and could eventually order a special master to draw new lines for the state.
“The Alabama Legislature believes it is above the law. What we are dealing with is a group of lawmakers who have blatantly ignored not only the Voting Rights Act, but a decision from the US Supreme Court and a court order from a three-judge district court,” the plaintiffs said in a statement. voter the representation we deserve,” the plaintiffs said.
Alabama will argue that the map complies with the court order and adheres to other principles of districting such as making districts compact and not dividing communities of interest.
“The Legislature’s new plan fully and fairly applies traditional principles in a manner consistent with the Voting Rights Act. Contrary to mainstream media talking points, the Supreme Court has not held that Alabama should draw two majority-minority districts,” Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office said in a statement.
In a July 13 letter to the state legislature’s redistricting committee, Marshall said the plaintiffs in the case “now demand a plan that provides not only a ‘fair chance’ to compete, but a guarantee of Democratic victories in at least two districts.
Republicans, reluctant to create a Democratic-leaning district, are gambling that the court will accept their proposal or that the state will prevail in a second round of appeals. In his letter, Marshall noted that Justice Brett Kavanaugh only partially joined the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision against Alabama.
“I am confident that we did well. It’s up to the courts if they agree,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed, a Republican from Jasper.
The three-judge panel that struck down Alabama’s current map in 2022 said the “appropriate remedy” would be a map with a second majority Black district or “an additional district in which Black voters would otherwise have the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.” The judges added that it should include a second majority-Black district or “something close to it.”
The definition of “opportunity” dominated much of the debate on the Legislature floor as Democrats criticized the GOP proposal that they said would ensure the reconfigured district would remain under white Republican control.
“Your opportunity district gives you a majority white population. … It’s not an opportunity to win. It’s an opportunity to lose,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, a Democrat from Greensboro.
Reed said the court did not give state lawmakers a definition of opportunity, but he argued that the district had changed.
“If you look at the difference between what the district was then and what the district is now, is there a greater opportunity for someone else to get elected there other than Republicans? I think the answer is yes,” Reed said.
An analysis by The Associated Press, using redistricting software, shows the 2nd District map approved Friday has largely voted for Republicans in recent state elections. Donald Trump won the district by nearly 10 percentage points in his 2020 reelection bid.
Alabama is the site of a court case that led to a Supreme Court decision that effectively ended the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting, especially in the South, obtain Washington’s approval before changing the way they conduct elections.
With the current battle over a congressional map, some Democrats in Alabama have accused Republicans of trying to provoke another challenge to important civil rights legislation.
“I’m really disappointed in my colleagues who want to tee up the Voting Rights Act to be cut,” Singleton said.
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