Alabama Secretary of State, reapportionment chairs oppose maps drawn by special master

Plaintiffs challenging maps urge court to adopt one of two plans

By: - September 29, 2023 6:57 am
A man at a podium gesturing at a map.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tucsaloosa, speaks during a special session on redistricting on Friday, July 21, 2023 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

Alabama’s secretary of state and the chairs of the Alabama Legislature’s reapportionment committees filed objections to new congressional map proposals with a federal court on Thursday. 

The objections from Secretary of State Wes Allen; Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile and Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, used nearly identical language, criticizing the three proposed maps from a special master of splitting up “communities of interest” and racially gerrymandering voters, arguments  the state has used throughout the legal process to little success.

“Secretary Allen preserves his objection to these plans and maintains his argument that the districts based on this structure are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders that harm Alabama voters by subjecting them to racial classifications,” state attorneys wrote. “In carrying out the Court’s orders, the Special Master’s proposed plans carry forward what Secretary Allen maintains are errors the Court has made in its preliminary findings.”

The plaintiffs who challenged Alabama’s maps as violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act Thursday urged the court to adopt a map known as Remedial Plan 1 that creates two majority-Black congressional districts, or a map known as Remedial Plan 3 that creates a majority-Black district and a second with a Black population of about 49%.

“Based on any relevant measure, Remedial Plans 1 and 3 fully and appropriately cure Alabama’s likely § 2 violation,” the brief said.

A three-judge panel will determine which of the maps to use after ruling earlier this month that a map approved by the Legislature in July failed to address violations of the Voting Rights Act. The court, consisting of U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. district judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer, has scheduled a hearing on the objections in Birmingham on Tuesday. 

In 2022, the panel struck down a 2021 congressional map approved by the Legislature, ruling that the map unconstitutionally packed Black voters into a single congressional district and muted their voices in the political process. Citing the high degree of racial polarization of voting in Alabama – where white Alabamians tend to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tend to support Democrats – the judges said the state needed to draw a second majority-Black district, or “something quite close to it.”

The state appealed to the Supreme Court, who stayed the lower court’s ruling allowing the maps to be in place for the 2022 election. But the nation’s high court upheld the three judge panel’s decision in June. The Alabama Legislature drew new maps in July which created one district with a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) of 50.65% and a second with a BVAP of less than 40%. 

The panel ordered a special master to draw new maps on Sept. 5 in a ruling that sharply criticized the Legislature for not following its guidelines. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied a stay to the state.

Special Master Richard Allen’s three map proposals each create a majority-Black 7th Congressional District in western Alabama, running up into Birmingham. One proposal, Remedial Plan 1, creates a majority-Black 2nd Congressional District in the Wiregrass; the other maps set the 2nd district’s BVAP at 48.5% and 48.7%.

Throughout the legal process, the Alabama attorney general’s office has maintained that traditional districting principles mean that they shouldn’t have to split up communities of interest (namely the Gulf Coast, Wiregrass and the Black Belt) more than necessary and they should not have to draw a map where race “predominates.”

State attorneys have argued that the remedial maps would have race “predominate” because they are drawn to provide a second district where a Black preferred candidate would have an opportunity to win. Allen, Livingston and Pringle maintained those arguments Thursday.

“Secretary Allen preserves his argument that this Court’s preliminary injunction order was in error where it found that race did not predominate over traditional districting criteria in plans based on this structure or any other approach that sacrifices traditional criteria for racial goals,” the brief said.

Allen, Livingston and Pringle say that Special Master Richard Allen’s first plan is the most objectionable because it has an “unnecessary” split of Houston County.

Remedial Plan 1 is the only one of the three plans that offers two majority Black voting age population districts.

The Special Master generally approves of the VRA Plaintiffs Plan as a Section Two remedy, and his Remedial Plan 1 is a modest variation on that plan,” wrote Allen in his filing.

According to the Special Master’s report, the Black preferred candidate would have won in 15 out of 17 recent elections in a majority-Black 2nd Congressional District, not every election.

The Milligan plaintiffs cited the election simulations in their support for Remedial Plans 1 and 3. The plaintiffs urged the court to reject Remedial Plan 2; in simulations of that plan, Black candidates only won 13 of 17 elections in the proposed congressional district. The plaintiffs wrote that Black candidates in the district lost four out of five simulations of the 2022 congressional elections.

“In the fifth election, the Black-preferred candidate won by the slimmest of margins at 0.1 percentage points,” the plaintiffs wrote. “A district where the Black-preferred candidate wins only one of five times (20%) in the most recent congressional election cannot be considered an opportunity district.”

The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning policy center based at New York University, filed a request to submit an amicus brief with the court Thursday. The brief urges the court to adopt Remedial Plan 1, writing that population shifts could dilute Black voters’ effectiveness in districts with smaller Black populations.  

“It is not hard to see how poorly planned (or even strategically deliberate) additions after the 2030 census could make a district that Black-preferred candidates already win with relatively narrow margins even more unfavorable for Black voters,” the proposed brief said. “The best way to avoid this danger is to adopt the plan where CD-02 has the most stable and sustainable population. By that metric, Plan 1 is, by far, the best choice for a remedy.”


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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.