A panel of federal judges struck down Alabama’s new congressional map on Monday, ordering the state Legislature to redraw the maps so that the state’s million-plus Black voters have the opportunity to elect more than one member of Congress.
Under the proposed map, “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote in the 225-page opinion. Two of the three judges—District Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer—were nominated to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, and U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus was a former Reagan appointee nominated for the appellate bench by Bill Clinton.
The ruling comes after a pair of lawsuits accusing the Republican-dominated state legislature of gerrymandering the maps to pack a disproportionate amount of Black voters into one district to dilute their voting power. The judges wrote in their ruling that the lawsuits are “substantially likely to establish” that the maps violate the Voting Rights Act.
The judges gave the Republican-dominated state Legislature two weeks to produce new maps which “includes either two majority-Black districts, or two districts in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice, or a combination of two such districts.”
If the legislature doesn’t produce those maps, the court will appoint an independent “special master” to draw new ones. The judges also ordered Secretary of State John Merrill to delay the state’s candidate filing deadline by two weeks, to Feb. 11, so candidates could file to run with the new maps.
“This decision is a win for Alabama’s Black voters, who have been denied equal representation for far too long,” former Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, told the New York Times. “The map’s dilution of the voting power of Alabama’s Black community—through the creation of just one majority-Black district while splitting other Black voters apart—was as evident as it was reprehensible.”
Black people make up 27 percent of the population in Alabama, a historically significant battleground for civil rights in the U.S. But just one of the state’s seven U.S. House districts is represented by a Black member of Congress, Terri Sewell in the Seventh District. Sewell has not faced a Republican opponent since 2012, and in 2020, she won nearly 98 percent of the vote while running unopposed.
Sewell praised the ruling in a statement Monday night. “Increasing political representation of Black Alabamians is exactly what John Lewis and the Foot Soldiers who marched across the bridge in my hometown of Selma fought for,” Sewell said.
Alabama Republicans denounced the ruling. “The basic outlines of Alabama’s congressional districts have remained the same for several decades and have been upheld numerous times,” Alabama state GOP chair John Wahl told the Times. “What has changed between now and those past decisions to cause the court to act in this manner?”
The office of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, told CBS News that the AG’s office “strongly disagree[s] with the court’s decision” and that it’ll soon appeal it to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Marshall’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.)
The case could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which backed partisan gerrymandering in 2019 but has not taken up the issue of racial gerrymandering since striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that may have stopped Alabama’s new maps from passing. But for now, voting rights advocates celebrated the win.
“We’ve said since the beginning that we would refuse to let unconstitutional maps be used without a fight, so we are pleased that the court recognized the importance of urgently remedying the congressional district maps ahead of November's election,” Tish Gotell Faulks, ACLU of Alabama legal director, said in a statement following the ruling.
“It’s past time for Alabama to move beyond its sordid history of racial discrimination at the polls, and to listen to and be responsive to the needs and concerns of voters of color.”
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