HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — After two years of court battles, and two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal three-judge panel has selected a new U.S. House map for Alabama to be used in the 2024 elections.
The panel chose “remedial plan 3,” which was one of three developed by map-makers overseen by a court-appointed special master.
The battle over the map stemmed from plaintiffs’ claims and the court’s finding that maps drawn by the Alabama Legislature in 2021 and 2023 appeared to violate the Voting Rights Act.
The court ordered that out of Alabama’s seven congressional districts, a second district should be drawn that included a majority or near-majority Black voting age population.
The special master submitted three maps last week and the plaintiffs told the court they preferred maps 1 or 3. The State of Alabama said it opposed all three maps. Alabama has argued changing the district maps drawn by the legislature amounted to racial gerrymandering. The State asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the map-making order, but the high court refused to intervene.
The map primarily makes changes to Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District in South Alabama.
The Special Master’s report noted that the primary focus of the map-makers was not drawing lines to ensure a given percentage of Black voters, instead the focus was on the likely election results for Black-voter preferred candidates in the proposed districts.
“Mr. Ely prepared Remedial Plan 3 without reference to any other illustrative or suggested party or non-party remedial plan. Rather, he proceeded first by holding Districts 3, 4, and 5 unchanged from the 2023 Plan and then seeking to minimize changes to Districts 6 and 7. He next preserved the Black Belt within Districts 2 and 7, without splitting any of those counties.
“Like Remedial Plan 2, Remedial Plan 3 splits only six counties. While Remedial Plans 1 and 2 place Henry County, considered to be part of the Wiregrass, in District 2 with the Black Belt, Remedial Plan 3 would place Henry County with the majority of Wiregrass counties in District 1.
“Mr. Ely also sought to better preserve the cities of Mobile and Birmingham within single districts and to follow municipal boundaries where possible. He also sought to minimize splitting voting districts (precincts) except where needed to equalize population; doing so resulted in jagged borders in certain places because precincts are not square. Compared to the Special Master’s other proposed remedial plans, Plan 3 preserves a greater portion of the population of the cities of Birmingham and Mobile within a single district, as shown in Table 1 below.
“To keep more of the city of Mobile in District 2 in Remedial Plan 3, an equivalent portion of Mobile County needed to shift to District 1, which Plan 3 achieves to the north of the city of Mobile, along the border with Baldwin County in the nearest vicinity to District 1. Mr. Ely accessed median income data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is relevant to the social and economic factors identified in the Legislature’s guidelines and findings, to confirm an appropriate bifurcation of Mobile County outside the city of Mobile. The area southeast of Interstate 10 was kept in District 1 for better congruity with Baldwin County.”The Special Master’s Report, describing the mapmakers work for map 3
Under map 3 the Black voting age population for District 2 is 48.7 percent, and an analysis — using historical election data — found that out of 17 recent elections, the Black voter preferred candidate would have won 16 of those races by an average margin of 10.3 percent.
Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen commented on the decision Thursday.
“The Office of the Secretary of State will facilitate the 2024 election cycle in accordance with the map the federal court has forced upon Alabama and ordered us to use.
“It is important for all Alabamians to know that the legal portion of this process has not yet been completed,” Allen said. “A full hearing on the redistricting issue will take place in the future and I trust Attorney General Marshall to represent Alabama through that process. In the meantime, I will keep our state’s elections safe, secure and transparent because that is what I was elected to do.”
Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels issued a statement following the court ruling.
“This is a tremendous win for Alabama voters and, as I and my colleagues have said all along, fair
elections begin with fair maps,” Daniels said. “Although we can look at today as a landmark and historic victory, we must continue to safeguard and protect our right to vote. Today, the Court sent a clear message- Your vote is your voice and your voice matters”
The ACLU of Alabama represented the Milligan plaintiffs in the case.
“Today’s order means for the first time, Black voters in two congressional districts will have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” said JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “It is unfortunate that federal courts were forced to put in place a congressional map that state lawmakers refused to admit is the right thing to do, but we are thankful for their intervention. Our democracy is strongest when we make it possible for every vote to be counted. Putting in place fair voting maps moves us closer to that reality.”
The Alabama Republican Party also issued a statement reacting to the court’s decision.
“While we continue to have the utmost respect for the legal process, we are disappointed with the decision the District Court has reached,” the Alabama GOP said. “Of the three maps, the Court chose the map that is the most Democratic – not the map with the highest minority voting age population. We are hopeful Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall will continue with the appeal process. We believe Alabama’s Congressional Districts should represent the communities of our state, and not be based on the liberal Democrat agenda or the color of people’s skin.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall also issued a statement on social media regarding the map decision Thursday afternoon.
“The Voting Rights Act was enacted to undo gerrymanders, not create them. But ironically, the Act has now been used to seperate what plaintiffs call ‘Black Mobile’ from the rest of Mobile, and then join ‘Black Mobile’ with Phenix City roughly 250 miles away. Anyone who looks at the State’s map next to the map now imposed on the State can tell which is the racial gerrymander. That map violates the Constitution’s gaurantee of equality of all. We will abide by the court’s order for the 202 election, and we wil continue to defence the State’s law in court for future elections”Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
Secretary Allen said Marshall will represent the state in a full hearing on the redistricting issue at a later date.