HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — A federal three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the Alabama congressional map redrawn by the legislature in July does not remedy Voting Rights Act problems identified by two courts.
The Alabama Legislature’s map did not create two Black voting-age population congressional districts or two Black near-majority districts. In arguments before the court Alabama said it could not engage in racial gerrymandering.
Following the ruling, Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen filed documents asking the three-judge panel to stay its current order and not move forward on map-making. The filing says they plan to appeal the court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.
The lawsuits challenging the map were summed up in Tuesday’s court order:
“These cases allege that Alabama’s congressional electoral map is racially
gerrymandered in violation of the United States Constitution and/or dilutes the votes
of Black Alabamians in violation of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Tuesday’s order moves the drawing of the map away from the legislature.
The court acknowledged federal court review of redistricting can be intrusive, but it said, “However, ‘when those with legislative responsibilities do not respond, or the imminence of a state election makes it impractical for them to do so, it becomes the unwelcome obligation of the federal court to devise and impose a reapportionment plan pending later legislative action.’”
The order directs a court-appointed special master to oversee the drawing of three proposed maps. Those maps are to be filed by Sept. 25.
The Alabama Attorney General’s office said it plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.
“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. 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.”
The court also ordered, “Each map shall remediate the essential problem found in the 2023 Plan – the unlawful dilution of the Black vote in Alabama’s congressional redistricting regime. To that end, each proposed map shall “include either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”
The panel had issued a preliminary injunction in January 2022, finding that Alabama’s previous map likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The court said Alabama’s Black population is large to constitute a voting-age majority in a second congressional district, that such a district could be reasonably configured, that voting in the challenged districts is “intensely racially polarized” and under the totality of the circumstances Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.
That order was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing the 2022 Alabama congressional elections to use that map. But, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in October and ruled for the plaintiffs in June. The high court agreed with the three-judge panel’s findings that a second Black majority or near-Black majority district could reasonably be drawn.
The court outlined its objections to Alabama’s map in its injunction order:
“First, we find that the 2023 Plan does not include an additional opportunity
district because the State itself concedes that the 2023 Plan does not include an
additional opportunity district. Indeed, the State’s position is that the Legislature was not required to include an additional opportunity district in the 2023 Plan.
“Second, we find that the 2023 Plan does not include an additional opportunity
district because stipulated evidence establishes that fact. District 2 has the second highest
Black voting-age population after District 7, and District 2 is the district the
Alabama has seven congressional districts, with District 7 represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Black voting age majority district. The map drawn by the legislature in July included just over 50 percent Black voting age population in District 7 and District 2 had a Black voting age population of 40 percent.
Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels welcomed the court’s decision Tuesday.
“The three-judge panel rightfully recognized that the State’s map represented defiance over
compliance, and failed to remedy the State’s Section 2 violation. If the State’s map had been
upheld, Black voters – and all Alabama voters – would have been collateral damage.
“I believe that the new map that will be created by the court-appointed special master and
cartographer will provide a second district that will allow Black voters the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice. And I am confident that justice will prevail. We expect that a new map will give voters the representation they are guaranteed, and deserve, under the U.S.
Constitution and nothing less.
“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. It is simply not right that Alabama Black
voters – who represent 27% of Alabama’s population – only have 14% representation in
Congress. The creation of a second opportunity district will help cure that inequity.”
The Alabama Republican Party issued a statement shortly before noon regarding the court’s order.
The Alabama Republican Party released the following statement concerning today’s decision by the federal three judge panel in the Allen v Milligan redistricting case:
“While we respect the Court, we are disappointed in its decision, and we trust that the State will ultimately prevail in this litigation.”