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Judges set to consider Alabama’s most recent congressional map

The Supreme Court had ruled the state’s previous map likely diluted the electoral power of its Black voters

Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri A. Sewell and the Congressional Black Caucus filed a brief ahead of arguments Monday over her state’s latest congressional map.
Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri A. Sewell and the Congressional Black Caucus filed a brief ahead of arguments Monday over her state’s latest congressional map. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A panel of federal judges will hear arguments Monday over the future of Alabama’s congressional map, months after the Supreme Court ruled the state’s previous map likely diluted the electoral power of its Black voters.

The state currently has six districts where white voters predominantly elect Republicans and one represented by a Black Democrat in a state with a more than 25 percent Black population.

Last month, in response to the Supreme Court ruling that its current map likely violated the Voting Rights Act, the state passed a new one that has one majority-Black voting-age district and a second with a roughly 40 percent Black voting-age population.

The challengers, who include the NAACP, seek an injunction against using the map in elections next year. They argued the new map “does not provide Black voters a realistic opportunity to elect their preferred candidate in any but the most extreme situations,” in a brief filed last month.

Alabama’s new map “focused on pleasing national leaders whose objective is to maintain the Republican Party’s slim majority in the US House,” rather than complying with the Voting Rights Act, the challenger’s brief stated.

The Congressional Black Caucus echoed that sentiment in a brief led by Rep. Terri A. Sewell, the state’s sole Democrat in Congress. The new map “entrenches the historical exclusion of Black Alabamians from participating in our American democracy,” the brief said.

“The Alabama Legislature’s defiance of the Supreme Court’s directive clearly demonstrates its ongoing commitment to protecting the political preferences of a white majority,” the brief said.

In a statement Tuesday, Sewell and the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus said they “will not stand by and allow improper, racially discriminatory maps to stand without challenge.”

The Justice Department also filed its own brief arguing that if the Legislature’s plan does not pass muster, the judges should appoint a special master to draw its own map for next year’s election.

Alabama has defended its new map, arguing that the new congressional District 2 complies with the Voting Rights Act, with a nearly 40 percent Black voting-age population.

The state argued that the Supreme Court’s decision this year does not require it to draw a new majority-Black district in the state and the new map avoids splitting up both Black and white communities.

Alabama’s new map complied with “traditional” redistricting principles like keeping districts compact and avoiding county or other community splits, the state’s brief argued. The state argued that drawing a new majority-Black district, like the map challengers argue for, would mean “cracking” communities like the rural Wiregrass in the southeastern portion of the state.

With a tight margin in the House, experts have said redistricting cases in states like Alabama could help determine control of the chamber in next year’s elections.

The challenge leading up to Monday’s hearing stretches back about two years, from when challengers first objected to the map the state drew after the 2020 election. Last year, the same panel of three federal judges for Monday’s hearing ruled that map likely discriminated against the state’s Black voters.

The Supreme Court then allowed the state to use the map in last year’s midterms while letting the case play out. Ultimately, the Supreme Court in June affirmed the three-judge court’s original finding that the map violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered the Legislature to draw a new one.

The Alabama case is one of several challenges working their way through the courts that could shake up congressional maps before next year’s elections. Map challengers in Louisiana are pursuing shifts to the districts in the state, and there is litigation pending in Florida, Georgia, Utah and South Carolina.

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