Alabama congressional map: Federal court won’t let state relitigate Voting Rights Act
The court said they are not at “square one” in the redistricting process
The Alabama Legislature has meet in the current Statehouse — the old Highway Department Building — since 1986. Amid deteriorating conditions in the current Statehouse, Alabama is pursuing what would be the nation’s first new State Capitol in nearly 50 years. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
The court overseeing a challenge to Alabama’s congressional map said Tuesday it would not allow the state to relitigate whether the state’s prior map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
At a Monday morning status conference, attorneys with the Alabama attorney general’s office suggested they wanted to challenge earlier parts of the case, including the 11 illustrative maps from the plaintiffs that were part of the preliminary injunction and Supreme Court case that blocked the state’s 2021 congressional map.
The three-judge panel wrote Tuesday that while the plaintiffs “bear the burden” to establish that the new map violates Section 2, which bans racially discriminatory voting laws, they are only looking at the likely Section 2 violation.
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“Indeed, it would be unprecedented for this Court to relitigate the likely Section Two violation during these remedial proceedings, and the Court will not do so,” the judges wrote. “We are not at square one in these cases.”
The judges wrote that this decision is consistent with the defendants’ request that the hearing is only remedial and any trial on merit would take place after the 2024 election.
The panel ruled in January 2022 that the 2021 map violated Section 2 by packing Black voters into a single congressional district and making it difficult for Black Alabamians to elect their preferred candidates. The court, citing the high degree of racially polarized voting in the state, directed the Legislature to draw a map with two-majority Black districts or “something quite close to it.”
After the Supreme Court upheld the decision in June, the Republican-supermajority Legislature passed and Gov. Kay Ivey signed a map with one district with just over 50% Black voting age population and one district at around 40%. The plaintiffs in the case filed a brief last week saying the map did not meet the court’s requirements.
The court ruled that they would hear all evidence submitted thus far into the case, which the parties had agreed to at the status conference.
Attorneys for the state had requested that the plaintiffs amend their complaints to reflect the new maps because their case had originally been against the maps passed in 2021. The court said they will not that enforce that request, but plaintiffs have until Aug. 4 to make changes if they like.
“The Defendants do not suggest that they lack notice or understanding of the nature and substance of any Plaintiff’s attack on the 2023 Plan, nor could they fairly do so,” the court wrote. “Further, requiring amended pleadings would be inconsistent with the remedial nature of the upcoming hearing.”
The Tuesday filing also said that the August 14 hearing would be limited to the state and plaintiffs in Allen v. Milligan and Allen v. Caster, the two cases that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on. The court said it would not admit plaintiffs in the similar Singleton v. Allen case, due to the limited scope. If the court decides that the Section 2 violation is likely, they will have the chance to submit their maps same as the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs.
“The Singleton Plaintiffs only assert that the 2023 Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” wrote the judges. “Accordingly, the claims of the Singleton Plaintiffs will not be heard in that remedial hearing, and the Singleton Plaintiffs may not participate in it as a party.”
The preliminary injunctive relief, requested by the Singleton plaintiffs, has been set for immediately following the remedial hearing if a Section 2 is found likely.
The judges wrote that the hearing will recess or adjourn no later than Aug. 18 at 1:00 pm. If necessary, they will resume at 9:00 am on Aug. 21.
The parties are directed to file “proposed finding of fact and conclusion of law” within three days after the conclusion of their respective hearings.
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