Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District runs from the Mississippi border through Montgomery and to the Georgia line. (U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals)
The U.S. Constitution says members of the United States House of Representatives must be 25 years old; a United States citizen for at least seven years and a resident of the state they would represent.
But the Constitution does not require a member of the U.S. House to live in the district that elects them.
And that’s one reason why many prospective candidates for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District don’t actually reside in it.
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The new district, established by a federal court order earlier this month, runs from Washington County and northern Mobile on the border with Mississippi though southern Alabama, including Montgomery County and portions of the eastern Black Belt.
The district has a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) of 48.7%. Because voting patterns in Alabama are racially polarized, with white Alabamians tending to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tending to support Democrats, the district presents a major pick-up opportunity for Democrats. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham is the only Democrat currently serving in the state’s congressional delegation.
Qualifying for the 2024 elections began this week.
Two prospective candidates live in the district. Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed told Al.com’s Mike Cason last week that he is considering a congressional run. Reed, who recently won re-election as Montgomery’s mayor, is out of the country and was not available for comment.
Former Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, said in an interview on Monday that he is “heavily” leaning towards running in the election. Brewbaker said he has polls out right now looking into the chances of a Republican winning the seat.
“I’m not going to go on a fool’s errand if they say it’s D+5 and reality is D +15,” he said.
Other Democratic candidates living outside the district are stressing their ties to it. Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels of Huntsville said he is “strongly” considering a run for the seat.
Daniels touted his connections to Bullock County, a portion of the district just east of Montgomery County. Daniels said that has recently done work in the district, such as helping establish pilot programs focused on academic achievement and sporting camps. He said his family and his childhood home are still there.
“You never leave home, right?” he said.
Sen. Merika Coleman of Pleasant Grove in Jefferson County wrote in a text message Monday that she is considering a run.
“My team and I are currently in the exploratory stage, and we’ll be reaching a final decision very soon,” she said in a text message Monday.
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson wrote in an email that she is “strongly” considering a run for the seat. She said she would move into the district if elected.
“I have been engaged in the district for years a community activist and organizer,” she wrote.
Other candidates mentioned for the seat include Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard and Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile. Messages seeking comment were left with Bracy and Figures.
Brewbaker said that, in a race with candidates from outside the district, he thinks living in the district would be a benefit for him.
“In a place like Alabama, where being from somewhere still means a lot to people, it would be very easy to use in a campaign against someone if they were an outsider,” he said.
According to the official history site for the U.S. House of Representatives, the House has very few restrictions on candidacy because the founders wanted the chamber to be the closest one to the people. The Federalist No. 52, written by either Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, said the age, residency and citizenship requirements for representatives had been “very properly considered and regulated” by the Constitution.
“Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith,” the essay said.
In Powell vs. McCormack, a 1969 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the qualifications for Congress spelled out in the Constitution were the only ones that could be used to seat or exclude members of the House.
Political parties can create separate requirements to appear on primary ballots. In Tennessee, three congressional candidates were removed from the Republican primary for technical reasons, such as not voting in enough recent primaries.
Richard Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama, said he was not an expert on the rules around residency requirements for congressional representatives, but he believes living outside a district could be detrimental to a candidate.
“That’s usually brought up by the opponent to sort of try to make the case that the candidate is not really one of them and doesn’t really understand that districts or that state’s needs and is not going to be able to represent them as well,” he said.
Fording said that the shape of the new district may make that accusation less effective, however, than it’s been in the past.
“What does one of us mean when you have counties that are so different and spread so far across the state?” he said.
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