Alabama congressional map proposals headed to federal court hearing
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)
A federal court Tuesday will hold hearings in Birmingham on which of three proposed Alabama congressional maps should be put in place for the 2024 elections.
Special Master Richard Allen filed three potential maps last week, aiming to meet the three-judge panel’s directive that two of the proposed districts give Black voters a chance to elect their preferred leaders.
All three maps make the state’s 2nd Congressional District, running from Mobile through the southern Black Belt and into the Wiregrass, and the 7th Congressional District, including Birmingham and the western Black Belt, as the two opportunity districts for Black voters.
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The question for U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. district judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer is which of the three plans will work best. The court ruled in 2022 that packing Black voters into a single congressional district effectively muted Black voices in the process, and directed the Alabama Legislature in 2022 to create a second majority-Black congressional district “or something quite close to it.”
Allen’s proposed districts get close to that than a Legislature-approved map rejected by the court that created a 7th Congressional District with a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) or 50.65% and a 2nd Congressional District with a BVAP of less than 40%.
But only one of Allen’s plans creates two majority-Black districts. That’s Allen’s Remedial Plan 1, with a BVAP of 50.1% in the 2nd district and a 52.8% BVAP in the 7th. cre.
The other two plans create a one majority-Black district and one near-majority Black district. Remedial Plan 2’s 2nd district has a BVAP of 48.5% and a 7th district with a BVAP of 52.8%. Remedial Plan 3’s districts creates a 2nd district with a BVAP of 48.7% and a 7th district with a BVAP of 51.9%.
Both the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the plaintiffs who first challenged Alabama’s maps in 2021 have filed objections to the maps. The state objects to all three proposals but says that Remedial Plan 1 is the most objectionable. The secretary of state and the reapportionment chairs said in nearly-identical briefs last week that they objected to what they called an unnecessary split of Houston County, Remedial Plan 1 is also the only map with two majority Black voting age population districts.
“The Secretary likewise preserves his argument that replacing the 2023 Plan with these plans or others that sacrifice com- pactness, county integrity, communities of interest, or other traditional criteria is not required by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which ‘never requires adoption of districts that violate traditional redistricting principles,” the state wrote.
The plaintiffs objected to Remedial Plan 2. In an analysis in the Special Master’s report, the Black-preferred candidate only won in 13 out of 17 simulated elections in the plan’s 2nd Congressional District.
“Based on the 2022 elections, CD-2 in Remedial Plan 2 fails to remedy the likely § 2 violation because Black-preferred candidates would have lost four of the five contests analyzed,” attorneys for the Milligan plaintiffs wrote.
Other groups filed briefs in the case. The Brennan Center for Justice in New York urged the court to adopt Remedial Plan 1, saying it was the most likely to give Black voters the opportunity to elect their leaders amid ongoing population shifts.
The Alabama Democratic Conference also objected to the three maps, saying that white voters could “veto” elections in these maps. The ADC used returns from the 2022 election, where Yolanda Flowers, a political newcomer who was badly outspent during the race, won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination but lost badly to Gov. Kay Ivey.
Responding in a filing on Monday, Allen wrote that Remedial Plan 2 addresses the court’s concerns, citing poor spending and voter turnout in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
“While the 2018 Democratic nominee for Governor, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, spent $2,570,968 on his challenge to Republican Governor Kay Ivey, the 2022 Democratic nominee, Yolanda Flowers, spent just $12,726 and was outspent by Governor Ivey,” Allen wrote. “The election results corresponded with this spending disparity.”
Allen wrote that the Democratic Party’s 2022 statewide candidates were “dramatically underfunded, (and) contributed to depressed voter turnout, particularly among Democrats, thus tipping the balance of those candidates in District 2.”
“In fact, 2022 is the only general election analyzed in which a Black-preferred candidate would have lost District 2 in Remedial Plan 2,” he wrote. “Even in 2014, which was the lowest statewide turnout since 1986 until the 2022 election, the Black-preferred candidate won all three biracial election contests in District 2 in Remedial Plan 2. In 2018, when voter turnout reached almost 50%—although still below presidential election-year turnout percentages—the Black-preferred candidate won District 2 handily. This supports the conclusion that 2022 was an historic aberration.”
On Friday, the Alabama secretary of state’s office wrote that were dropping a planned appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in this case. The Supreme Court last week refused a request from the state to stay the proceedings.
Deuel Ross, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a Saturday phone interview that the dismissal means that the state is no longer challenging the preliminary injunction against the 2023 map. The state is still able to defend the 2023 map created by the Legislature in trial, which would likely not occur until 2025.
“I think it seems unlikely that there’ll be any further appeals until that later date,” he said.
The Alabama secretary of state’s office declined to comment on Monday. A message was left with the Attorney General’s office on Monday.
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