Alabama legislators begin reapportionment hearings amid uncertainty over new maps

By: - June 27, 2023 6:01 pm
The Alabama State House of Representative floor

Representatives trickle in the first day of the 2023 special session of the Alabama legislature. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The first legislative reapportionment meeting ahead of a special session next month to redraw the state’s congressional maps featured a number of speakers urging the creation of two majority-minority districts. 

Evan Milligan, the plaintiff in Allen v. Milligan, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a lower court ruling effectively calling for a new congressional map, told the Legislature’s Permanent Committee on Reapportionment Tuesday that their proposal would satisfy the court and give Black voters a significant voice in the political process.

“It addresses the issues with our current congressional map that the lower federal panels took issue with and out of compliance and also that the Supreme Court also recognized were out of compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and we strongly urge you to consider our remedial map,” he said. 

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But majority Republicans on the reapportionment committee gave little indication of their preferred approach. 

“I believe we already have over 100 (maps) from as far away as France,” said Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, chair of the committee.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month upheld a lower court ruling that declared Alabama’s congressional maps, approved at the end of 2021, to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. 

Picture of redistricting plan from Blacksher
The plaintiffs in a case involving Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, introduced a new congressional map proposal at a legislative hearing on June 27, 2023. (Jemma Stephenson/Alabama Reflector)

Plaintiffs in the case argued the map, which maintained the 7th Congressional District as the state’s single majority-minority congressional district, prevented Black voters from participating meaningfully in the political process.   

The lower court said the remedy would be a second majority-Black congressional district, “or something close to it.”

The court gave Alabama a deadline of July 21 to have the maps settled. A special session to design the maps will begin July 17, the last possible day for a special session to begin and pass the maps by the deadline.

If the Legislature misses the deadline, or submits maps the court deems inadequate, the court could appoint a special master to draw the maps for the state.

Ahead of the meeting, two plaintiffs’ maps have received attention. One, proposed by Black legislators in 2021 in a case led by Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would have districts of 42%-50% Black voting age people. The 7th District would be split into two districts, which could lead to an election between Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, and Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, in the next election in 2024.

But James Blacksher, an attorney for the Singleton plaintiffs brought a new map to the meeting, which he said they were now supporting. The new map would keep Jefferson County intact. Blacksher said that a state divided on racial lines might also violate the Voting Rights Act.

Under the plan, one district would be 47.93% minority and 39.61% Black. Another would be 55.69% minority, 49.38% Black, according to Blacksher.

“There have to be two opportunity districts in order to correct the Section 2 violation, but those opportunity districts must also satisfy the Constitution,” he said.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, went back and forth with Blacksher during his time during the public hearing about whether or not the maps had to have zero deviation or divide up counties for certain reasons.

“We shouldn’t confine ourselves because the Supreme Court was clear that in order to accomplish the objectives of the Voting Rights Act, there are traditional principles that you can manipulate a little bit, including deviating or splitting counties and precincts,” he said after the public hearing.

Another plan, filed by the Milligan plaintiffs and plaintiffs in a second case known as Caster, would draw a new 2nd Congressional District across the southern part of the state, pulling in Montgomery and the northern part of Mobile County. Jefferson County would be split between the 6th and 7th districts. Districts 2 and 7 would be majority Black at 50.55% and 55.33%, respectively.

Remedial redistricting plan
A picture of the plan from plaintiffs in Allen v Milligan and Caster. (screenshot of Alison website)

“The SCOTUS Supreme Court ensured that African Americans are able to select or elect a person of choice when it comes to representing them in the in Congress and we want to be sure that everyone understand that these maps will certainly give people of color, African Americans the opportunity to select a person of choice,” said Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference NAACP and plaintiff.

England said he thought the filed by the Milligan and Caster was a “fantastic starting point.”

In 2021, Black lawmakers had tried to design a district where Black voters could have a significant say, which they called an “opportunity district.” At the time, Republicans were not interested in a second majority-minority district. 

At the Tuesday meeting, lawmakers did not make outward shows towards bipartisanship. A proposal from Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, to make one of the committee’s two chairs a “minority” or a Democrat was ignored by Republicans.

After the meeting, England said he felt the meeting was like “Groundhog Day,” and they were doing all of the same things that got them where they were currently.

“Adopting the same guidelines, not really doing much to afford the public an opportunity to address the maps, and we’ve got the same council that was involved in the first time around that got us in trouble, so it just appears that there, we’re doing the same thing,” he said.

Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives has a narrow Republican majority, which could draw an unusual amount of national attention to Alabama’s congressional races. 

The committee is scheduled hold its next meeting on July 13 at

The July 17 start date means legislators will have five days, the minimum time needed to pass a bill, to approve a map. With the special session beginning so close to the deadline, England said he thinks it will be tough, especially for Republicans, to find a consensus.

“I think we’ll see an honest effort, but it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a hard threshold to cross,” he said.

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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