WASHINGTON — Alabama on Friday asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the new congressional map its Republican-controlled legislature drew to reflect 2020 census data after a lower court blocked its use to discriminate against voters black.
The emergency appeal is a preview of what is expected to be another intense year of election disputes, especially with national redistricting in light of the 2020 census. Many states are also considering changing their voting rules based on their experiences in the 2020 election during the pandemic.
Last Monday, a special three-judge federal court in Birmingham, Alabama, ordered the state to redraw its seven-district congressional map to add a second seat either with a majority black population or at least configured to give black voters the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.
Black residents make up 27% of Alabama’s voters, but the one district, Seventh, where they hold a majority, makes up just 14% of the state’s congressional delegation, the court observed.
“Voting in contested districts is intensely racially polarized (it’s not really contested),” the court said, and “black voters have fewer opportunities than other Alabamians to elect candidates from their choice in Congress”.
Earlier this month, a panel of North Carolina judges upheld new Republican-drawn voting cards in the state, dismissing claims they were illegally manipulated for partisan advantage. The panel said it had no power to compel the state legislature. The case is now on appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Days later in Ohio, the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s new congressional map, saying it illegally favored Republicans.
In a split decision, the majority of the Ohio court found the new map violated the state Constitution, which was changed after voters approved a 2018 ballot measure to prevent gerrymandering.
Alabama’s seventh congressional district, which stretches from the black neighborhoods of Birmingham and Montgomery to the Mississippi border, has been represented by a black Democrat since the 1990 election, currently Representative Terri Sewell. The other six districts are held by white Republicans.
Several black voters, as well as Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit to invalidate the card, alleging it violated voting rights law. Their claims include that the map diluted black political power by dividing the more rural population of the state’s black belt among majority white districts, even though the population would support a second black district.
The Birmingham court agreed and delayed filing deadlines for state nominees by two weeks so the legislature could pass a new map. His unsigned order was rendered unanimously by U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, and U.S. District Judges Anna Marie Manasco and Terry Moorer, both appointed by the former president. Donald Trump.
In its application to the Supreme Court, Alabama says the 2022 map includes only modest changes from the previous version that reflect population changes and should therefore be presumed lawful.
“The court-ordered reshuffle marks a dramatic departure from decades of Alabama congressional plans,” wrote Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican. “The result will be a map that can only be drawn by placing race first above race-neutral precinct criteria, sorting and distributing voters across the state based solely on race.”
The Birmingham court’s preliminary injunction “is based on the harmful idea that redistricting begins and ends with racial considerations”, he wrote.
Alabama has played an important role in the history of suffrage. It was in Selma that law enforcement attacked a civil rights march in 1965, injuring future Congressman John Lewis and others; reporting on “Bloody Sunday” helped pass the Voting Rights Act in Congress.
In a 2013 case filed by Shelby County, Alabama, the Supreme Court struck down the strictest provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required authorities in areas that the legislation defines as having historically done evidence of discrimination obtain federal approval before changing election procedures.
“History did not end in 1965,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court, concluding that black voters had gained enough political power since then to render the preclearance provision unnecessary. The decision, however, left other sections prohibiting discrimination in effect, and these are implicated in the current Alabama case.
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