Alabama House passes new congressional map over Democratic objections
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, speaks after the Alabama House of Representatives approved a new congressional map on July 19, 2023. The map includes one majority-Black congressional district and one district that is 42% Black. Democrats, who are pushing for two majority-Black districts, say the map will not satisfy a federal court. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama House Wednesday approved a new congressional map that would create a majority-Black district and one with 42% Black population after a four-hour debate that featured steady and often sharp criticism from Democrats.
The map passed the Republican-controlled chamber on a 74-27 vote. Reps. Ivan Smith, R-Clanton and Rep. Rhett Marques, R-Enterprise, both abstained.
A federal court last year ruled in a case known as Allen v. Milligan that the state’s 2021 congressional map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel, citing the intense racial polarization of voting in Alabama, where white Alabamians tend to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tend to support Democrats, ordered the state to draw new maps that at a minimum gave Black voters the opportunity to elect two representatives of their choice.
The House-passed map, called the “Community of Interest” map, creates a 7th congressional district in west Alabama that is 51.55% Black, and a 2nd congressional district in the southeastern part of the state that is 42.45% Black.
Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, the co-chair of the Permanent Legislative Reapportionment Committee and sponsor of the Republican proposal, said Wednesday the map was compliant with the Voting Rights Act and kept “communities of interest” in the same congressional district.
“A performance analysis shows that the 2nd district will provide the opportunities for minorities to elect or defeat a candidate of their choosing depending on the election,” he said.
House Democrats voiced concerns that the “Community of Interest” remedial map breaks up the Black Belt region and could potentially dilute Black voting power, while leaving out communities of interest located in cities like Mobile.
Pringle argued Mobile and Baldwin counties, the state’s only coastal counties, constitute a community of interest. Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said her constituents have more in common with the Black Belt region than the coastal community.
“Because when you talk about us not having any community of interest [in Mobile], let me stand here as someone who has a mom who is from Dallas County – I will be up there for a family reunion. My dad is from Livingston. I will be up there in August for a family reunion,” she said.
Pringle clashed with Democrats about what the three-judge panel that ruled against the state in 2022 considered an appropriate remedy. The court said that the Legislature should “include either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.” The representative repeatedly cited that language during the debate.
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“It clearly said we are either to draw another majority-minority district, or a district that provides the opportunity for the minority to elect the candidate of their choosing,” Pringle said.
The judges, however, went on to say that the “practical reality” was that “any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.” Democrats said 42% does not come close to that.
“You cannot be the minority in population and elect your person of choice,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said after the vote on Wednesday. “You don’t have the numbers to do that.”
Several Democratic speakers accused Republicans of defying the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court decision last month.
“I can’t say the word, but you all have basically dropped the F-bomb on the United States Supreme Court,” said Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham. “And that is what you did here today and with this process.”
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, offered a House Democrats sponsored map which would have created two majority-Black districts out of the Black Belt. The map, supported by the Milligan plaintiffs, failed along a 73-27 party line vote.
England later sharply criticized Pringle and redistricting co-chair Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, accusing them of supporting maps that had no public input and of using arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court had already rejected.
“Your map is the quintessential definition of noncompliance,” he said. “It takes rejected arguments and memorializes them in a map and (says) ‘we’re going to give it right back to you and tell you to take it or leave it.’”
Pringle defended the percentages, suggesting there was testimony from the Milligan plaintiffs that they would accept the Black population in the 2nd district.
“There are filings and sworn testimony that 40% BVAP (Black Voting Age Population) would perform well enough to elect the candidate of their choosing,” he said.
Democrats said afterward that those percentages would only potentially work in urban counties like Jefferson or Madison, and not the rural Wiregrass, the heart of the 2nd congressional district.
Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, who is a white representative elected in a minority-majority district, said that the Court heard the plaintiffs’ 40% talk, and even if that’s really what they said, they told the state to go higher.
“I just want to be clear that there’s a difference between racial gerrymandering where that is the sole and only factor, versus it being one of many. So we’re allowed to use race, the Supreme Court made that clear, that can be a factor. It just can’t be purely based,” he said.
Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, said the Supreme Court did not consider that in upholding the lower court ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s decision was squarely that the state of Alabama had to redraw a map that gave two majority-minority districts or something close to it,” he said. “So bringing in some extraneous statement that may or may not have taken place is irrelevant to the context for why we as a Legislature are here today.”
The Alabama Senate is scheduled to take up a separate map, known as the “Livingston Congressional Plan,” Wednesday afternoon.
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