With days before special session dwindling, future Alabama maps are still unclear

The Republicans kept any plans private at the final public hearing

By: - July 14, 2023 7:01 am
The chamber of the Alabama House of Representatives

The chamber of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (Stew Milne/Alabama Reflector)

Alabama’s new congressional maps remain uncertain just three full days before a special session on redistricting begins. 

At the second and final public hearing on new maps Thursday afternoon, Republican lawmakers remained mostly quiet, while Democrats appeared divided on the map they would support. Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, the committee co-chair, also alluded to maps from as far away as New Zealand, maps that had not been made public as of Thursday evening. 

“That’s what really should concern all of us who sit on this committee,” said Rep. Sam Jones, D-Mobile.

In Allen v. Milligan, the U.S. Supreme Court last month upheld a lower court ruling that found Alabama’s 2021 congressional maps violated the Voting Rights Act. The lower court said the remedy would have to be two majority-Black districts or something close to it. 

The new maps could give Democrats their first chance to hold more than one seat in the U.S. House delegation since 2010, but Democratic lawmakers appeared split on how to reach that goal. 

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, and Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, leaned towards maps brought by the plaintiffs in the Milligan case, which would create two majority-Black districts. England has called the map a good start, and Figures will bring the map as a bill Monday. Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, plaintiffs in a separate case, leaned towards maps that kept counties whole but had Black populations of at least 40%, known as “opportunity” districts.

Both maps offered by Singleton and Smitherman kept Baldwin and Mobile counties whole and together with Jefferson County relatively intact.  The “VRA Plaintiffs Map,” supported by Figures and England, carved out a part to keep the Black Belt as a community of interest.

The Republican majority did not have a map at the meeting. The committee adopted guidelines to draw a map at Thursday’s meeting. Pringle said the committee had received an enormous number of maps but did not otherwise specify why Republicans had not developed their own proposal. Apart from Pringle, who moderated the three-and-a-half-hour public meeting, and questions from Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, few Republicans spoke on Thursday.

Democrats, expressing frustration, said that the first time they will see the “committee map” is after the public hearing, while their maps were debated by the public. Pringle said the Democrats on the committee will see the maps before the public.

“To this day, absolutely nothing,” England said after the meeting to reporters. “I have no concept, no clue. No, no even perception of it. Just like, we’re just going to appear here on Monday and vote on a map we’ve never seen. And if we’ve never seen it, that means the public has never seen it.” 

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, England said it felt like “Groundhog Day,” echoing his comments from after the first public hearing.  An amendment to the guidelines at the beginning of the committee meeting that was voted down by Republicans. England, after the meeting, said it would have aligned the guidelines with the court’s orders.

“Nothing changes if nothing changes, and the amendment was rejected,” he said. “And we did exactly the same thing we did a couple of years ago.” 

The VRA plaintiffs map would split Jefferson county between Districts 6 and 7, and draw two majority Black districts for Districts 2 and 7. A new 2nd Congressional district would be drawn across a Southern part of the state and pull in Montgomery. District 2 would have 50.55% majority Black population. District 7 would have 55.3% majority Black population.

“We need to build a state that actually looks into our future in this country, embraces our promise as a multicultural community and provides a path forward, so that young people, like we see out here sitting here today, can see themselves in positions of leadership,” said Evan Milligan, executive director of Alabama Forward and the lead plaintiff in Allen vs. Milligan.

The CLC Map 1, which Singleton spoke for Thursday, kept Jefferson County nearly intact as an “opportunity” district with Black  population at 39.86%. Another majority Black district was drawn from District 7 at 50.17% Black.

“The CLC basically draws two districts: one keeping Jefferson County whole, and we’re keeping the community interests of the Black Belt whole,” Singleton said.

It is not clear if the CLC supports the map named for them.

The Singleton Congressional Plan 3, which Smitherman spoke for, kept Jefferson County whole and attached some Black Belt counties to the district to make a nearly 42% Black  population and a nearly 50% Black district by extending District 7.

“We want to urge legislators to adopt a plan that keeps Jefferson County whole,” Smitherman said. 

A fourth map, brought by former Alabama Democratic Party chair Joe Reed, drew two majority Black populations, districts 2 and 7, at 53.38% and 55.3%, respectively. In the process, the map split 10 counties and 87 voting precincts, according to committee members.

“I have no fight with anybody, and I’m not trying to make one, but we’re trying to make two majority Black districts,” Reed said.

Pringle said the committee will meet at 10 a.m. Monday, a few hours before the start of the special session.  Lawmakers have five days to pass the maps before the court’s deadline of July 21. It takes five days to pass a bill. A delay, a missed deadline or a map the court finds unacceptable could lead to new congressional  maps being drawn by a third party, known as a special master.

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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.