A bronze map of Alabama, as seen outside the Alabama Department of Archives and History on February 8, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
A federal court Thursday ordered Alabama to implement a new congressional map drawn by a court-appointed special master that creates a majority-Black district and a near-majority Black district.
In a 49-page opinion issued on Thursday morning, U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. district judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer wrote that the plan, known as Remedial Plan 3, did the best job addressing their concerns about giving Black voters a voice in the political process and the Legislature’s interest in keeping communities whole.
“We find that Remedial Plan 3 completely remedies the vote dilution we found and satisfies all applicable federal constitutional and statutory requirements while most closely approximating the policy choices the Alabama Legislature made in the 2023 Plan,” the judges wrote.
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The judges’ decision, which could result in the election of a second Democratic U.S. representative from Alabama, comes after an almost two-year court battle in a case known as Allen v. Milligan that has gone to the nation’s highest court twice.
Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen, the defendant in the case, said in a statement Thursday he would implement the map the state had been “forced” to use for the 2024 election.
“A full hearing on the redistricting issue will take place in the future and I trust Attorney General (Steve) Marshall to represent Alabama through that process,” the statement said. “In the meantime, I will keep our state’s elections safe, secure and transparent because that is what I was elected to do.”
Deuel Ross, an attorney for the Milligan plaintiffs, who filed suit against the state in 2021, said in a phone interview Thursday that the decision is “historic” for Alabama and the country.
“I think this is just a significant moment for my clients, and for the Black community and for the whole country to see people getting the representation that they deserve,” he said.
The plan, created by Special Master Richard Allen, creates a 2nd Congressional District running from Mobile County through the southern Black Belt and to the Georgia border, with a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) of 48.7%. It also creates a 7th Congressional District in the western Black Belt and Jefferson County with a BVAP of 51.9%.
The court in 2022 ordered the state to draw new congressional maps after determining that the Legislature had unconstitutionally packed Black voters into a single congressional district, the 7th, in western Alabama. Citing the racial polarization of voting in Alabama, where white Alabamians tend to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tend to support Democrats, the court ordered the creation of a second majority-Black district “or something quite close to it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling twice. The Alabama Legislature in July approved a new congressional map that created a 7th Congressional District with a BVAP of 50.65% and a 2nd district with a BVAP of less than 40%. The three-judge panel rejected the map in September and sharply criticized the state for not following its instructions.
The lower court Thursday rejected another Allen plan, known as Remedial Plan 1, that would have created two majority-Black congressional districts. The judges said it split seven counties, one more than the state’s guidelines encouraging no more than six county splits.
An analysis of the Remedial District 3 plan found a Black-preferred candidate would win 16 of 17 recent elections in the 2nd Congressional District, and all 17 contests in the 7th district.
Ross and his clients asked the court to implement Remedial Plan 1 but had not objected to Plan 3.
“We’re excited and happy to see that the court chose one of the two plans that we supported,” he said.
Ross said that case is a win for Black voters not just in Alabama but across the country.
“The Black Belt in Alabama is such a historic and important part of the state, and, as you know, the Black Belt runs through the entire country,” he said.
Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, the co-chair of the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, which oversaw the redistricting process, said Thursday that he did not like any of the “plaintiffs’ plans,” but would abide by the court ruling.
“We know what we’re going to run under in 2024 now,” he said.
Pringle said that projections show that the districts will be losing population, which could make the districts not opportunity districts in the future.
“The only place to get populations is going to be in white areas so they’re probably going flip back to majority white,” he said.
During the map selection phase, the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning nonprofit law and public policy institute based at New York University, wrote an amicus brief that the first of three remedial plans would have held up the best to population loss.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said Thursday that he would have preferred a map with a second majority-Black district. But he thinks that the district will provide enough opportunity for minority groups to elect a candidate that represents the entirety of the district.
“I always respond by saying oatmeal is better than no meal,” he said.
Daniels said that the close margins in the new district, and the mix of urban and rural areas, will mean that a new candidate would need to work to represent a broad swathe of the population and not extremists.
“They will have to play to the people,” he said.
This is a breaking news story. Updated at 11:56 a.m. with comments from Anthony Daniels, Chris Pringle and Deuel Ross.
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