In redistricting filing, Alabama says lower court order amounts to ‘racial stereotyping’

By: - September 12, 2023 12:54 pm
An Alabama congressional map showing two major areas: the 7th Congressional District in west Alabama, colored tan, and the 2nd Congressional District in southeast Alabama, colored pink. Below them is a proposed 1st Congressional District, centered on Mobile and colored purple.

The Alabama Legislature’s approved redistricting map includes a 7th Congressional District (left, colored tan) that is 50.65% Black and a 2nd Congressional District (right, in pink) that is about 40% Black. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

The state of Alabama argued in a U.S. Supreme Court filing on Monday that following an order to draw a new congressional map would amount to “racial stereotyping” and violate its own redistricting criteria.

The 41-page appeal, filed by Secretary of State Wes Allen to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeated arguments made by the state to a three-judge panel that ruled last week that the state failed to remedy Voting Rights Act violations with a second majority-Black congressional district or “something quite close to it.”  

It also repeated attacks on prospective maps put forth by plaintiffs seeking a second congressional district that can give Black Alabamians the chance to elect a leader of their choosing. 

The state argued in the filing that their “communities of interest” approach — which created one district with a 50.65% voting age Black population and one with a voting age Black population of less than 40% — better represented the Black Belt.   

“The 2023 Plan unifies the Black Belt better than every one of Plaintiffs’ plans, which split the Black Belt counties into three or more districts,” the filing said. “The question now is a different one: whether a State must sacrifice traditional districting criteria to join voters from different communities, based on their race, to hit a 50-percent racial target, ‘or something quite close to it.’”

The appeal asked for a stay by Oct. 1 to prepare for elections. They said a stay could be granted as late as Oct. 3 when another hearing is scheduled. Thomas Tuesday gave plaintiffs a Sept. 19 deadline to respond. 

The three-judge panel had denied a stay on Monday, stating that the state did not meet the burden required for a stay in their judgment. 

Last week, the three-judge panel had ruled that the maps drawn by the Legislature in the July special session did not resolve the problems found in maps approved in 2021 and directed a special master to draw new lines. The court said that the 2021 map had unconstitutionally packed Black voters into a single district.

The court said that Alabama’s voting patterns were racially polarized, so the state needed a second majority Black district or “something quite close to it.” The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in June.

The 2023 maps drawn by the Legislature had created a 7th Congressional District with a 50.65% Black voting age population and a 2nd Congressional District that was around 40% Black.

We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” the judges wrote last week.

In their appeal, the state argued that they are being required to draw maps on racial lines, and accused the lower court has changed the basis of their argument.

In the bill that passed the 2023 map, the Legislature also passed a series of legislative findings, such as keeping “communities of interest” (namely, the Wiregrass, Gulf Coast and Black Belt) whole and limiting county splits. 

The state argued in its appeal that other maps were weaker on these traditional redistricting criteria, and, so, other maps would have to be drawn on racial lines, which the state said was not aligned with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act The brief argued the law did not allow the state to break up “nonracial communities of interest.”

“The District Court’s remedial order requires racial stereotyping,” the state wrote. 

The state said they had remedied the problems of treating different communities differently as the state now kept all communities of interest together as much as possible.

“This is no longer a case about Alabama’s splintering the Black Belt into multiple districts to keep the Gulf in one district, with resulting racially discriminatory effects,” the state wrote.

Both the lower court and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected earlier arguments from the state that keeping the Gulf Coast together was a priority. 

The state also said that a stay would serve the public interest as it would keep state-drawn maps in place for the election.

“A stay serves the public interest by preserving the opportunity for the legislatively enacted 2023 Plan to be used in the upcoming election, rather than a court-drawn, race-segregated plan,” they wrote.

Alabama used the 2021 congressional maps in the 2022 election after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed an initial ruling on the matter.

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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.