HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Alabama’s congressional map, with one majority black district and six majority white districts, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by a group of Alabama plaintiffs, including Khadidah Stone, Chief Field and Campaign Strategist for Alabama Forward.
“Section 2 says you cannot discriminate based upon race in any voting procedure, but by the Alabama Legislature packing all Black voters into one Congressional District, they definitely did discriminate based upon race in this redistricting process,” Stone told News 19 Friday.
The high court’s opinion endorsed a lower court decision that found Alabama needs to draw a new map with two Black-majority or near-majority Congressional Districts.
The 2020 U.S. Census results meant each state had to redraw its Congressional Districts based on population. Stone said that’s not what happened in Alabama.
“Alabama has seven Congressional Districts and each one of those districts represents 14 percent of the population,” she said. “We found with the 2020 Census data that was returned to us that Alabama had a Black population of 27.79 percent, which will round up to 28 percent of black Alabamians.”
“So with that if you do 14 plus 14 that equals 28, that’s automatically two Congressional Districts. However, the Legislature decided not to give us two Congressional Districts and decided to pack all Black Alabamians into one. Which is a direct violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
So, Stone with Alabama Forward and other groups sued over the map. There’s been a number of turns since it was filed.
“After we filed the lawsuit, a few months later a three-judge panel heard the case and they agreed with us, and said Alabama did indeed need to redraw those maps,” Stone said. “Our Attorney General Steve Marshall appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.”
The three-judge panel had ordered Alabama’s Congressional elections stayed until a new map was drawn. But in a February 2022 ruling the U.S. Supreme Court lifted that stay, saying it was too close to Alabama’s May Primary Election to remake the map.
The court also agreed to hear arguments in the case. Those arguments went before the court in October. The high court issued the ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on Thursday morning.
“When the answer came down I was actually in a store and I just began to cry, it was a moment of … given the history of where the courts are currently and given the history of what they’ve done in the past. I was optimistic, but I was also realistic about what could possibly happen,” She said. “So to know that the answer that I wanted to happen, happened, was just a feeling I can’t quite describe, I feel overjoyed.”
The issues in the case aren’t unique to Alabama.
“So, on a congressional level, there are 12 other states who were being sued by people in their state because they violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in the same exact way,” Stone said. ‘And those states were told until an answer comes out for our case, then their case couldn’t be solved.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Thursday because the Supreme Court’s ruling came following the lower court’s preliminary ruling, he still expects to be able to present the state’s arguments for the current map – at a trial. He said the evidence supports the claim, “That voters in Alabama, regardless of their race, have the same opportunity as any other members of the electorate to participate in the state’s political processes and elect representatives of their choice.”
The Supreme Court opinion Thursday said the plaintiffs met the three key tests the courts have set out in Section 2 cases: That the affected minority population group is large enough to justify a district, that it is politically cohesive and the majority votes as a bloc to defeat minority’s preferred candidates.
Stone said the issue is representation of voters.
“It falls into voting power,” she said. “What the Legislature did by packing all black voters into one specific congressional district, they diluted black voting power, black political power. And they took away voices from the black community, knowing there was a way to have another representation, another congressional district in place.
Stone said the next logical step is for Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special session for the Alabama Legislature to work on drawing a new Congressional District map. But, she said she knows the victory Thursday is not the last step in this ongoing fight.
“This may be a win, but also I have to look at what our Legislature tried to pass this legislative session,” Stone said. “I think it’s very telling. I definitely want to be sure that we’re staying vigilant and people are staying involved because this is only the beginning, voter suppression still happens, there are voter suppression bills the legislature tired to pass this past session, so definitely want to be cognizant of those things as well.”
Alabama’s 2024 Primary Election is set for March 5.