In a move causing ripples across the political landscape of Alabama, federal judges have ordered the state to redraw its congressional lines to possibly include a second district where the majority of voters are black or close to it. This is envisioned to offer such voters an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice. But what shape this new district will take has become a bone of contention as lawmakers scramble to define new boundaries.
A special session has been scheduled for this Monday where Alabama lawmakers, under the court’s instruction, are to adopt the new map by the end of the week. This follows a recent and unexpected U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a lower court’s decision, suggesting that Alabama’s existing congressional map, with a single majority-black district, was potentially in breach of the Voting Rights Act.
The voter group that took the state to court and came out victorious in the Supreme Court is advocating for a second district where black residents form 50.5% of the population. However, Alabama Republicans, who command a significant majority in the state Legislature and thus oversee the redistricting process, have not agreed to this. They hint at a proposal with lower percentages of black voters instead. Their proposed map will be revealed on Monday.
In the words of House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle, who serves as co-chairman of the state redistricting committee, “Even among the plaintiffs suing the state, the meaning of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice is in dispute.”
This debate was ignited last month when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling suggesting that Alabama was likely in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Court has given Alabama until Friday to adopt a new map and present it for review.
This Supreme Court decision was lauded by voting rights groups who believe it will give black voters a stronger voice in the Deep South state. Longtime Montgomery resident and lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Evan Milligan, urged lawmakers to make a difference, stating, “You can make a mark in history that will set a standard for this country.”
Unsurprisingly, this redistricting endeavor is being tinted with shades of partisan politics. Republicans, who dominate Alabama’s elected offices, have shown resistance to creating another district with a majority of black voters who lean Democratic. This could potentially increase the Democrats’ representation in Congress. Democrats, of course, welcome the opportunity to gain an additional seat or at least a swing district in this predominantly GOP state.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who is representing the state in the redistricting lawsuit, has expressed concerns about the plaintiffs’ shifting demands. He highlighted that the plaintiffs initially argued for a “fair chance” to compete but now seem to be seeking guaranteed victories.
In these complex circumstances, Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the state’s oldest black political organization, urged lawmakers to reach a compromise with the plaintiffs on the plan. He maintained that state lawmakers could either design a plan that the court approves of, or have the court draw it for them.
The forthcoming week will thus be of immense importance as Alabama embarks on its first significant revamp of its congressional districts since 1992, when the state was directed by the courts to establish its first majority-black district.