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Federal court names special master to redraw Alabama congressional map

Court sees ‘no reason’ to give the state another chance to draw the maps

Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in the Alabama delegation, called the court's decision 'another victory for Black voters' in the state.
Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in the Alabama delegation, called the court's decision 'another victory for Black voters' in the state. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A court-appointed special master has about three weeks to submit proposals for a new Alabama congressional map after a panel of federal judges on Tuesday struck down the district lines drawn by state lawmakers, finding that the plan didn’t fix a likely violation of civil rights law.  

The ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama directed the special master to file three proposed remedial maps by Sept. 25.

The decision by the three-judge panel comes months after the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s previous district lines likely diluted the electoral power of Black voters in the state. The panel included one circuit judge and two district judges.

Alabama, a state with a Black population of more than 25 percent, has one district represented by a Black Democrat and six districts where white voters predominantly elect Republicans.

Democrats were quick to praise the district court’s action. 

“The court has rejected the state legislature’s latest attempt to dilute the voices and voting power of African Americans all across our state,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell, Alabama’s sole Democrat in Congress, said in a statement Tuesday. She called the decision another victory for Black voters in the 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,” she said.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, Alabama adopted a new map that has one district in which the majority of voting-age residents are Black and a second where the voting-age population is roughly 40 percent Black.

But the judges Tuesday panned the state for not including a second district in which Black voters have a “fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

The panel said they were “deeply troubled” that Alabama enacted a map that the state “readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires.”

“We are three years into a ten-year redistricting cycle, and the Legislature has had ample opportunity to draw a lawful map,” the panel of judges wrote. 

“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,” they wrote. 

Stepping into a process that’s ordinarily reserved for state lawmakers is not something they do lightly, the judges wrote, but “we have now said twice that this Voting Rights Act case is not close.”

“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 judicial panel wrote. 

The ruling is the latest touchpoint in a closely watched legal battle as congressional lawmakers have an eye toward the 2024 election. 

JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement that “elected officials ignored their responsibilities and chose to violate our democracy.”

“We hope the court’s special master helps steward a process that ensures a fair map that Black Alabamians and our state deserve,” she said. 

Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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