HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The plaintiffs who are challenging Alabama’s congressional map under the Voting Rights Act want a federal three-judge panel to block the legislature-approved map from being used in 2024. And they want the map to be drawn by court-appointed experts.
The State of Alabama argues the court should reject the plaintiffs’ arguments and find that the map is constitutionally valid. That would pave the way for the map to be used in the 2024 U.S. House races in Alabama.
Those arguments were filed with the court Saturday as “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” following a hearing last week. The filings included proposed orders for the court to issue.
Read the Plaintiff’s full arguments here.
Read the State of Alabama’s full arguments here.
Alabama was sued in 2021 by a group of plaintiffs alleging the state’s U.S. House map violated the Voting Rights Act. States hold redistricting sessions every 10 years after the U.S. Census is released to adjust for population changes.
Alabama’s Black population has grown to 27 percent, according to the latest Census. The three-judge panel granted a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit in early 2022, finding that Alabama’s Black population was sufficiently large enough and geographically compact enough to allow for a second Black-majority or -near-majority district to be drawn. The court directed that a new map, reflecting those districts, be drawn.
Alabama appealed that ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the ruling in February 2022, finding Alabama’s May 24 primary date was too close to change the map for 2022. The high court ordered oral arguments in the case for last fall and the high court agreed with the lower court that Alabama’s 2021 map may be violating the Voting Rights Act. The Alabama Legislature held a special session in July and approved a seven-district map that included one Black-majority voting age population district in District 7 and a District 2 that has a 40 percent Black voting age population.
The plaintiffs say that ignores the court’s direction. Alabama says its map keeps the Wiregrass region and Baldwin and Mobile counties together as communities of interest which is a key feature of traditional redistricting.
The three-judge panel has to decide if it will accept the Alabama Legislature’s map as a remedy to the apparent Voting Rights Act violations. The plaintiffs point out that the U.S. Supreme Court in June endorsed the lower court view that a second district could be drawn for black Alabama voters to have an opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.
The two sides are clearly far apart. Alabama says it is complying with the U.S. Constitution and that a recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action means all race-based government action on race must be subject to strict scrutiny.
Alabama says its 2023 map does a better job than the plaintiffs’ maps regarding redistricting principles of maintaining communities of interest and compactness.
Alabama’s court filing says the map cannot be drawn primarily based on the race of voters.
“An order requiring the State to abandon the 2023 Plan in favor of any one of the alternatives that Plaintiffs proposed earlier in this litigation or in the Legislature would be an order imposing a redistricting plan that sacrifices traditional principles for the pursuit of a racial goal.”
The plaintiffs say the state is ignoring the court and contend the legislative findings cited in the final legislative map bill were inserted by the state’s lead lawyer in the case Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour. And, they argue that not only does the 2023 map not remedy the Voting Rights Act issues, but they’ve also provided 11 maps that do provide a remedy.
The plaintiff’s court filing says the courts have already found that the maps they’ve proposed meet the required standards for a newly drawn district.
“… Defendants’ assertion of avoiding racial gerrymandering also lacks any substantive basis, where the Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs’ illustrative maps were reasonably configured,” the filing argues. “Thus, the Legislature could have drawn any number of opportunity districts that avoid racial gerrymandering concerns simply by referencing any of the Plaintiffs’ eleven illustrative plans.”
The plaintiffs argue Alabama is trying to restart the clock on challenging the map.
In its court filing, styled as a proposed finding of fact and conclusion of law by the court, Alabama wrote, “In evaluating the Plaintiffs’ challenges to the 2023 Plan, the Court is not revisiting the State’s liability under the 2021 Plan or starting at square one. It is simply doing what any court does when a plaintiff seeks to enlist a federal court to enjoin a law by putting these Plaintiffs to their burden of proof.
“That requires ‘evidence that the new plan denies equal access to the political process.’”
The plaintiffs contend that’s not correct.
“The passage of a remedy does not erase the very liability that triggered it, and the sufficiency of a proposed remedy is measured by the degree to which it resolves the court’s liability finding,” the plaintiff’s filing argues. “This precedent makes good sense, for otherwise a state could avoid complying with the VRA indefinitely by repeatedly passing purported ‘remedial’ plans that perpetuate the very dilution that made the state liable in the first place.”
The only known timetable at this point is the court has said its goal is to have the map question resolved by Oct. 1, which the Secretary of State’s office said would give it enough time to prepare for the 2024 elections. Alabama’s primary election is set for March 5.