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Judge Aims for Black District Influence10/04 06:33


   BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A federal judge said Tuesday that the court will 
soon adopt new congressional districts for Alabama, choosing among proposals 
aimed at giving Black voters a greater opportunity to influence election 
outcomes in the Deep South state.

   U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, noting a ruling will be issued "shortly," 
said the three-judge panel is aware of the time constraints posed by elections 
next year when the state's seven U.S. House seats will be on the ballot. The 
court could rule as early as this week.

   The panel is stepping in to adopt new district boundaries after ruling that 
the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature failed to remedy a Voting Rights 
Act violation when lawmakers adopted new lines this summer.

   The judges said the state-drawn plan -- which had one majority Black 
district out of seven in a state that is 27% Black -- illegally diluted the 
political power of Black residents.

   The panel, which includes two judges appointed by former President Donald 
Trump, last month wrote that the judges were "deeply troubled" that Alabama 
lawmakers flouted their instruction to create a second majority-Black district 
-- or something close to it.

   The judges received input Tuesday on three proposals presented by a 
court-appointed special master.

   "I think this is a historic moment for Alabama, a historic moment for Black 
voters in the state," said Deuel Ross, deputy director of litigation for the 
NAACP Legal Defense Fund, after Tuesday's hearing.

   He voiced hope that new district lines could open the way for Alabama to 
elect a second Black congressional representative.

   "There have never been two Black congressional districts and two Black 
members of Congress elected from Alabama. So our hope is that this remedial 
plan will finally provide the representation that our clients are entitled to," 
Ross said.

   The three proposals presented Tuesday would shift the boundaries of 
Congressional District 2 so that Black voters comprise between 48.5% to 50.1% 
of the voting-age population. By contrast, the district drafted by GOP 
lawmakers had a Black voting-age population of 39.9%, meaning it would continue 
to elect mostly white Republicans, according to an analysis by plaintiffs who 
filed a lawsuit over that plan.

   Ross and another attorney representing Black voters in the case told the 
judges that two of the three proposals would fix the Voting Rights Act 
violation found by the court.

   "We believe under either plan Black voters will be able to realize the 
promise of the Voting Rights Act," attorney Abha Khanna told the panel.

   The attorneys said their clients preferred one of the plans, which was also 
the only one to create a second majority-Black district, but both were 
acceptable. They objected to another they said did not provide an adequate 
opportunity for Black candidates. Ross said an analysis showed that four of 
five Black candidates, who ran statewide in the last election, would have lost 
in that district.

   Khadidah Stone and Evan Milligan, both plaintiffs in the Alabama case, said 
a new map could provide an opportunity for a congressional delegation that 
better reflects the state's diversity.

   "We've gone so long without representation in Congress. Now, there is an 
opportunity for our needs, and our opportunities and our perspectives to be 
shared," Stone said after Tuesday's court hearing.

   The new maps are to be used in the 2024 elections and come after a winding 
court case and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The three-judge panel had initially 
wanted new lines drawn for the 2022 elections, but the U.S. Supreme Court put 
the order on hold as the state appealed. Justices in a 5-4 decision in June 
ruled against the state and upheld the the finding of the three-judge panel. 
Alabama lawmakers adopted new lines in July. The three-judge panel last month 
ruled the new lines, which maintained one majority-Black district, failed to 
remedy the problem and said it will oversee the drawing of new lines. The 
Supreme Court last week declined Alabama's request to pause the redraw while 
the state appeals.

   The Alabama attorney general's office told the judges that the state objects 
to all three plans, but had the strongest objection to the plan preferred by 
plaintiffs. The attorney general's office has argued that the panel is 
elevating racial targets over traditional redistricting principles.

   "We are confident that the Voting Rights Act does not require, and the 
Constitution does not allow, 'separate but equal' congressional districts," 
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement last week after the 
Supreme Court declined to stop the redrawing of boundaries.

   The judges wrote last month that they were "deeply troubled" by the actions 
of state lawmakers.

   An attorney told the three-judge panel that the state's obstinance should 
not be rewarded. Khanna said Alabama's reaction "was a model in how not to 
remedy" a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

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