MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Federal judges who ordered Alabama to draw new congressional lines said the state should have a second district where black voters are the majority “or something close to it” and have the option to nominate a representative of their choice.
Exactly what that map should look like is up for debate as lawmakers scramble to draw new lines.
Alabama lawmakers will meet Monday in a special session charged by the court with passing a new card by the end of the week. The directive comes on the heels of a surprise U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the lower court’s ruling that Alabama’s existing congressional map — featuring a single black district — likely violated the Voting Rights Act.
The group of voters that sued the state and won in the Supreme Court have proposed creating a second district where 50.5% of the population are black residents. But Alabama Republicans, who have a skewed majority in the Alabama legislature and will control the redistricting process, have not conceded the need to create a second-majority black district and have pointed to proposals with lower percentages of black voters. The GOP majority will release their proposed map on Monday.
“Even among plaintiffs suing the state, the meaning of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice is in dispute,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle, who serves as co-chair of the state’s redistribution committee, during a public hearing Thursday. .
The U.S. Supreme Court last month upheld a lower court ruling finding that Alabama likely violated the Voting Rights Act with a congressional map that had only one of seven predominantly black districts in a state where more than one in four residents is black . The three-member panel gave Alabama until Friday to approve a new map and submit it for review.
“The proper remedy is a congressional redistricting plan that includes either an additional majority black congressional district, or an additional district in which black voters otherwise have the option of electing a representative of their choice,” the three-judge panel wrote in its 2022 ruling, adding that it must include two districts in which “black voters are either a majority of voting age or something close to it.”
The Supreme Court decision was applauded by voting rights groups who said it would give black voters a bigger voice in the Deep South state.
“The eyes of the nation are watching you. I know it’s hard. I know you have people you answer to,” Evan Milligan, the lead prosecutor in the case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, told lawmakers. You can leave a mark on history that will set a standard for this country.
Milligan, a longtime resident of Montgomery, said he is six generations away from slavery. “My son and daughter are the seventh generation. Looking at them makes me commit to inheriting an Alabama that gives them the opportunity to lead, dream and contribute to the community, the same thing you want for your children and your grandchildren,’ Milligan said.
The Supreme Court decision marks Alabama’s first major revamp of its congressional districts since 1992, when Alabama was ordered by the courts to create its first majority black district. That led to the state electing its first black congressman since Reconstruction. Since then, the district has been represented by a black Democrat.
Party politics are at the root of the impending redistribution struggle. Republicans who dominate the Alabama electoral office resist creating a second district with a Democratic-leaning black majority, or nearly one, that could send another Democrat to Congress. Democrats applauded the opportunity to secure a seat or at least a swing district in the GOP-dominated state.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who is representing the state in the redistribution lawsuit, wrote in a letter to the commission that plaintiffs had initially argued for a “fair chance” to compete, but now want more.
“Now they are demanding a plan that not only provides a ‘fair chance’ to compete, but instead guarantees Democratic victories in at least two districts,” Marshall wrote. Marshall said the map proposed by the plaintiffs divides voters based on “stereotypes about how voters of certain races will vote.”
Joe Reed, president of the Alabama Democratic Conference — the state’s oldest black political organization — urged lawmakers to compromise on a plan with plaintiffs. He said state lawmakers can draft a plan that the court will approve, or the court will sign it for them.
“We know there will be two predominantly black districts,” Reed said.