Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, discusses a Democratic congressional map proposal during a special session on redistricting on Wednesday, July 19, 2023 in Montgomery, Ala. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
A Tuesday hearing that was supposed to be about racial gerrymandering claims in one case ended up focusing on arguments in another.
A three-judge panel in Birmingham heard arguments for and against a preliminary injunction over in Singleton v. Allen, a 2021 challenge to Alabama’s congressional maps filed at the same time as Allen v. Milligan, which led to those maps being blocked.
But both sides at the Tuesday hearing seemed interested in shoring up arguments made at a hearing on Allen v. Milligan on Monday.
Like the Milligan plaintiffs, the Singleton plaintiffs are challenging the state’s maps as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, but on different grounds. Where the Milligan plaintiffs are challenging the state’s maps under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Singleton plaintiffs argue that the maps violate their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Alabama’s current Congressional redistricting plan, enacted in 2011, Ala. Act No. 2011-518, is malapportioned and racially gerrymandered, packing black voters in a single majority-black Congressional district and minimizing their influence in five majority-white districts,” the Singleton plaintiffs wrote in their initial complaint.
Henry Quillen, an attorney for the Singleton plaintiffs, said in closing arguments Tuesday that “deciding the constitution issue is the way to avoid a constitutional showdown at the Supreme Court.”
The Singleton plaintiffs endorsed different maps from the Millian plaintiffs. The Milligan maps create two new districts, one embracing the western Black Belt and the other stretching from the Mississippi to Georgia borders. Those maps keep Jefferson County whole and separate from the Black Belt counties, which are mostly together.
“Nowhere in the definition of the Black Belt is Jefferson County,” said U.W. Clemon, a former federal judge and attorney for the plaintiffs, in closing arguments.
“You don’t need to rely on race,” Clemon said after the hearing. “It’s just the general whole county principle, which all the parties in the earlier part of the proceeding had agreed to.”
The 7th Congressional District, drawn as a majority-Black district in 1992, has generally included the western Black Belt and a sliver of Jefferson County, including parts of Birmingham, during its existence. Singleton said in testimony on Monday that Jefferson County could be a gerrymandered county, and that its residents face different challenges than those experienced by people living in the Black Belt.
“We are apart, we are really far apart,” said Singleton, who appeared as a live witness.
Attorneys from the Attorney General’s office argued it would be a “near impossible burden” to prove intent towards racial gerrymandering by the Legislature. Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour said that the Singleton map did not perform as well on the Legislature’s stated priorities, like communities of interest or compactness.
“The 1992 map is not in this court,” he said.
But most of the arguments in the two-and-a-half hour hearing seemed to reflect the previous day proceedings, a remedial hearing on the Allen v. Milligan case.
Even Quillen, attorney for the Singleton plaintiffs, made multiple references to this case being a way to avoid ruling on the Voting Rights Act if the state tries to take Milligan back to the Supreme Court. He said the nation’s high court could rule on the constitutional claims instead.
While U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. District judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer listened to the case, many of their questions referred back to Monday’s hearing.
Plaintiffs in the Milligan case on Monday shared a deposition from Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, the co-chair of the Permanent Legislative Reapportionment Committee, which oversaw the drawing of the state’s congressional maps. In the deposition, Pringle said he was unfamiliar with the findings of fact that appeared in the bill that passed with the state’s map, which defined three communities of interest and said the state would not pit incumbents against each other.
Marcus asked Singleton, who was a member of the reapportionment committee, if he was aware of those findings. Singleton said he had not been consulted before they were added to the bill.
Jim Davis, an assistant attorney general, had asked Singleton if it was normal for him to meet with lawyers during bill creation. The previous day, Pringle had said in recorded deposition that members of the Senate had met with LaCour. Quillen had offered into evidence a functionality report he had made for Singleton when Singleton was creating his own map. Singleton said that he had legal counsel but it was still his bill.
LaCour declined comment after the hearing.
The judges interrupted the attorneys on both sides during their closing arguments.
The panel pressed Quillen, on a “finger” of territory in the 7th Congressional District that stretches through parts of Jefferson County and up to Birmingham. Plaintiffs said it was a racial gerrymander in Jefferson County. Marcus said that the district lines had been upheld by courts since the 7th was drawn as a majority-Black district in 1992.
“Does the original sin continue to taint CD7?” Marcus asked.
Quillen said that racial gerrymandering does not go away on its own, and the state had needed to keep the map similar in past redistricting due to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The maps drawn after the 2020 Census, he said, were the first done without preclearance.
In LaCour’s closing argument, Manasco asked the solicitor general if Singleton, Livingston and Pringle’s testimony had reached a point where the court could consider if the findings of fact in the bill were “not in substance the product of a deliberative process,” and, if not, how many lawmakers would it take.
LaCour said no, as they were only three out of 140.
The court set a deadline of the 21st for the parties to file their conclusions.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.