HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The State of Alabama has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the ongoing Voting Rights Act challenge to the state’s congressional map.
The emergency petition for stay was filed Monday on behalf of Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen. The request follows a federal three-judge panel’s opinion last week rejecting the map and its Monday order refusing to pause court-ordered plans to redraw the map.
The panel had rejected a map drawn by the Alabama Legislature in July during a special session. That special session followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision made in June, which upheld the panel’s findings in early 2022 that Alabama’s congressional map appeared to violate the Voting Rights Act. The ruling in two lawsuits brought by a group of plaintiffs who challenged the map.
After the June Supreme Court ruling, the panel directed Alabama to create a second congressional district with a majority or near-majority Black voting age population. But the map approved by the legislature in July didn’t do that – and state lawyers say it isn’t necessary or constitutional.
Under the legislature’s July map, Alabama’s seven congressional districts include one majority Black voting age population district – District 7. The map’s District 2 has a Black voting age population of 40 percent.
Lawyers for Alabama argue that its map keeps Alabama’s Black Belt region intact and does not break up “communities of interest” in the Wiregrass or Gulf regions.
But the three-judge panel rejected that map and said it was troubled Alabama did not make an effort to draw a second district that gave Black voters the “opportunity” to elect a member of Congress of their choice. The panel ordered three new maps to be drawn by court-appointed cartographers by Sept. 27.
Alabama asked the court to stay that ruling, it refused and Alabama has now asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
The state has filed an emergency petition for stay. The three-judge panel said there was no emergency, that it had worked with the state’s request allowing the legislature to draw a map and it entered a scheduling order that the parties – including Alabama – had jointly proposed.
The panel’s order on Monday suggested the state didn’t have much chance of success before the high court.
“Likewise, it is exceptionally unusual for a litigant who has presented his arguments to the Supreme Court once already — and lost — to assert that he is now ‘overwhelmingly likely’ to prevail on those same arguments in that Court in this case,” the panel said. “Like our first injunction, our second injunction rests on an exhaustive application of settled law to a robust evidentiary record that includes extensive fact stipulations,” the order stated.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, Alabama raised the specter of racial discrimination in arguing against the court-ordered second opportunity district.
“The balance of harms supports a stay so that millions of Alabama voters are not soon districted into that court-ordered racial gerrymander,” Alabama argued in its court filing. “Race-based redistricting at the expense of traditional principles ‘bears an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid.’”
Governor Kay Ivey was asked about her view of the state’s position during a Tuesday visit to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.
“As I’ve said many times before, the legislature knows our state better than other special interest groups might, but it is what it is,” Ivey said. “And they appointed a special master (to supervise mapmaking) and we’ll have to ride it out, and see what comes out. But, I believe they’ll get the job done.”
The U.S. Supreme Court divides the country into regions for emergency petitions with each justice responsible for a different judicial circuit. Justice Clarence Thomas received petitions from Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
Thomas, who sided with Alabama in the Supreme Court’s June ruling, received the state’s petition and could have rejected it without comment under court rules. But, it’s still alive, Thomas on Tuesday gave the plaintiffs who challenged Alabama’s map a week to respond to Alabama’s request.
In arguing against the stay Friday, the plaintiffs said Alabama would not be harmed if the three-judge panel moved forward with new maps, but voters would be harmed if a stay was ordered.
“Thousands of individuals across the state of Alabama suffered this irreparable injury when required to participate in the 2022 congressional elections under a redistricting plan that violated Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act),” the plaintiffs argued. “A stay of this court’s decision would countenance the very same irreparable injury for the 2024 elections, leaving no opportunity for relief until 2026.”
According to U.S. Supreme Court rules, it would take five justices to grant a stay,
but only four justices to grant a cert petition, basically agreeing to review
The three-judge panel has said the map needs to be ready around the beginning
of October – for the March primary election. Further delays could mean the legislature’s July map will be used.