Alabama tried but failed to sidestep federal court orders to create a second majority-Black congressional district or something “close to it.”
In another victory for voting rights advocates, a panel of three federal judges on Tuesday (Sep. 5) rejected the GOP-controlled state legislature’s redrawn district map, ruling that Alabama failed to comply with its earlier orders, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld.
Last year, the lower court ordered Alabama to comply with the Voting Rights Act by creating a second district where Black voters can elect a candidate of their choice – a ruling that the high court affirmed in June. Alabama has only one majority-Black district out of seven districts, even though the state is 27 percent Black.
But Alabama Republicans disregarded the courts’ orders. In July, it submitted a new map that increased the percentage of Black voters from 31 percent to almost 40 percent in the majority-White 2nd Congressional District, while decreasing the Black voters in the state’s only majority-Black district to 50.65 percent.
The New York Times reports that the judges excoriated Alabama Republicans for defying its order.
“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” the judges wrote.
The judges ordered that a new map be independently drawn instead of passing the job back to Alabama Republicans who have shown no interest in complying with the principles of the Voting Rights Act nor will be able to complete a redrawing in time for the 2024 election cycle.
“Based on the evidence before us, including testimony from the Legislators, we have no reason to believe that allowing the Legislature still another opportunity to draw yet another map will yield a map that includes an additional opportunity district,” the court said, according to AL.com, ordering a special master and cartographer “to commence work forthwith on a remedial map.”
Two of the judges, Anna M. Manasco and Terry F. Moorer, were nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump. The third judge, Stanley Marcus, who usually sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, was nominated by former President Bill Clinton.
No immediate reaction from Alabama officials were reported. But after the legislature passed the newly rejected map, Alabama’s attorney general defended it as “fully and fairly” compliant with the Voting Rights Act while keeping similar counties and communities together.
Rep. Terri Sewell, a Birmingham Democrat, released a statement applauding the new court ruling:
“Today’s decision is yet another victory for Black voters in Alabama and for the promise of fair representation. By appointing a special master to fairly redraw Alabama’s congressional map, the court has rejected the state legislature’s latest attempt to dilute the voices and voting power of African Americans all across our state.
“While we were outraged by the Alabama State Legislature’s open defiance of the Supreme Court’s original order to create two majority-minority districts, I am nonetheless grateful that a federal court has now intervened to protect the voices of Alabama’s Black voters.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is indeed alive and enforceable!”