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,"
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.