HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The battle over Alabama’s Congressional map will be the focus of a hearing next Monday, but the judges hearing the case are continuing to lay out ground rules.
The dispute centers on whether Alabama’s new congressional map — violates portions of the Voting Rights Act
The plaintiffs — whose lawsuit led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in their favor in June — say the new map is still in violation of the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2.
The State of Alabama says the map meets the required standards.
In an order issued Sunday, the three-judge federal panel hearing the lawsuit said it is not going to put significant limits on evidence the two sides want to present
during next Monday’s hearing.
At the same time, the court’s order says the case is not at square one — and it will not relitigate its findings from 2021. That ruling found that Alabama could reasonably draw a Congressional map that doesn’t dilute the voting power of black voters. The court said a map could reasonably be drawn that creates two majority Black voting-age districts- or two near majority Black voter districts.
In its order Sunday, the court pointed to its major findings from the 2021 litigation.
“More particularly, we concluded that the Milligan Plaintiffs were substantially likely to establish each part of the controlling Supreme Court test, including: (1) that Black Alabamians are sufficiently numerous to constitute a voting-age majority in a second congressional district; (2) that Alabama’s Black population was sufficiently compact to constitute a voting-age majority in a second reasonably configured district based on the illustrative maps provided by the Plaintiffs; (3) that voting in the challenged districts was intensely racially polarized; and (4) that under the totality of the circumstances, including the history of voting discrimination in Alabama and the other factors that the Supreme Court has instructed us to consider, Black voters had less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the order said.
The Alabama Legislature redrew the map last month during a Special Session but it did not create two-majority or near-majority Black voting-age districts.
Attorneys for the state of Alabama Friday filed a detailed response to the plaintiffs objections arguing the plaintiffs remedies “would also require race-based redistricting indefinitely into the future.”
They also argue Mobile and Baldwin counties are a community of interest and shared political subdivision and should not be broken up as some of the plaintiffs’ maps propose.
The State’s attorneys described the new map, passed as Senate Bill 5, in the court filing.
“The 2023 Plan’s commitment to simultaneously keeping the Black Belt, Gulf, and Wiregrass communities of interest together to the fullest extent possible resulted not only in increased compactness but also changes in the demographics of Districts 2 and 7 from the 2021 Plan,” the filing said. “District 7 had a Black Voting Age Population of 55.26% in the 2021 Plan. District 7 now has a BVAP of 50.65%. The change is the result of the 2023 Plan’s unifying of Montgomery County in District 2. District 2 had a BVAP of 30.12% in the 2021 Plan. District 2 now has a BVAP of 39.93%, an increase of nearly 33%”
The three-judge panel has said the plaintiffs have the burden of proof in showing the new map violates the Voting Rights Act.
In an objection filed on July 28, the plaintiffs said the state’s map fails to remedy the problems identified by the federal panel and the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Here, the Legislature purported to make after the fact ‘findings’ tailored to disqualify all of the plans proposed by Black legislators and the VRA Plaintiffs’ plan, which had been created to comply with the 2021 redistricting guidelines readopted on July 7,” the filing argued. “These “findings” in SB5 contradict the Committee’s own recently readopted guidelines, were never the subject of debate or public scrutiny, ignored input from Black Alabamians and legislators, and simply parroted attorney arguments already rejected by this Court and the Supreme Court.”
Attorneys for Alabama contend the plaintiffs’ maps would cause further problems and won’t stand court scrutiny.
“Maps like the ones Plaintiffs propose would also create majority-minority districts ‘in greater numbers than they otherwise would have been’ if race hadn’t been used,” the filing argue. “But the Constitution forbids using race ‘to discriminate against those racial groups that were not the beneficiaries of the race-based preference.’ Plaintiffs’ view of required (Section) 2 remedies would also require race-based redistricting indefinitely into the future. The Constitution would not tolerate either.”
The plaintiffs’ objections contend Alabama could have approved a less discriminatory map.
“The Legislature’s adoption of SB5 instead of a plan that would offer Black voters have a new opportunity to elect their preferred candidate indicates that SB5 was passed with an intent to harm Black Alabamians in pursuit of other goals.”
The court said in its order Sunday if it finds after the August 14 hearing that the current map does not remedy the Voting Rights Act violations — and if it has to order a new map to be drawn — both sides will be given the opportunity to challenge any map that is produced.