A court showdown is set for Monday in the battle over Alabama’s congressional map and whether the Republican-led state defied the Supreme Court by not drawing a second majority-Black district.
Challengers have filed objections to Alabama’s new map, which lawmakers passed after their previous design was struck down for likely diluting the power of Black voters.
On Monday morning, a three-judge panel sitting in Birmingham, Ala., will hear arguments on the legality of the new boundaries.
“Alabama is in open defiance of the federal courts,” one group of challengers wrote in their objection.
No matter the decision, state officials say a map needs to be finalized by about Oct. 1 to have enough time to prepare for next year’s primary.
If the court strikes down the new map, it could instead appoint a special master to draw the lines for the 2024 elections.
The hearing is the latest development in a legal battle that has already reached the Supreme Court and is being closely watched by both political parties.
In one of its highest-profile decisions of the year, the justices in a 5-4 June decision affirmed the three-judge panel’s ruling, which had found the legislature’s map likely violated the Voting Rights Act, handing a win to voting rights advocates and Democrats.
The panel had ruled a new design “will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
Last month, the GOP-controlled legislature convened for a special session in a new attempt to come up with a map.
It maintained Alabama’s one existing majority-Black district, though it decreased the Black voting-age population there by 5 percentage points.
But the map notably did not go as far to create a second majority-Black district, only increasing the percentage of Black voters in the 2nd Congressional District from 30 percent to 40 percent.
Alabama argues their map is compliant because it prioritizes traditional redistricting principles.
“The 2023 Plan prioritizes the Black Belt to the fullest extent possible—even better than Plaintiffs’ alternatives—while still managing to preserve long-recognized communities of interest in the Gulf and Wiregrass. Plaintiffs cannot produce an alternative map with a second majority-black district without splitting at least two of those communities of interest,” the state wrote in court filings.
But the plaintiffs in the original lawsuits — individual voters and voting rights advocates — are urging the court to block the legislature’s latest attempt as an illegal racial gerrymander.
“Alabama’s new congressional map ignores this Court’s preliminary injunction order and instead perpetuates the Voting Rights Act violation that was the very reason that the Legislature redrew the map,” one group of challengers wrote.
Another group wrote the map is not legal for “a very simple reason: it fails to create a remedial district in which Black voters have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. The demographic statistics of [the map] speak for themselves.”
The state, meanwhile, claimed it is the challengers’ proposals that would run afoul of Supreme Court precedents.
“Their objections boil down to one thing: the Legislature didn’t do enough to prioritize race over neutral principles and thereby ensure that Democrats can reliably win in at least two congressional districts in Alabama,” the state wrote in court filings.
The case is being closely watched on both sides of the aisle.
The National Republican Redistricting Trust, the primary group responsible for coordinating the party’s redistricting strategy, urged the court to uphold the legislature’s map.
“This is nonsense. Far from being contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Alabama’s 2023 Plan faithfully follows it—and the Plaintiffs’ plans disregard it,” the group wrote in an amicus brief.
Rep. Teri Sewell, Alabama’s lone Democrat in Congress who represents the singular majority-Black district, filed a brief alongside members of the Congressional Black Caucus supporting the challengers.
“In the face of a clear judicial mandate to enact a redistricting scheme that creates two majority-minority districts or ‘something quite close to it,’ the Alabama legislature has demonstrated that it remains willing and eager to engage in racially discriminatory vote dilution in contravention of a federal decree,” the lawmakers’ attorneys wrote.
“Such an attempt must not be tolerated; the Court’s holding must have teeth.”
The Justice Department had backed the challengers before the Supreme Court, but it did not side with either party in the latest iteration of the case.
The department did, however, submit to the panel a 21-page analysis of relevant case law.
“Whether Districts 2 and 7, the two districts with the highest concentrations of Black voters in the 2023 Plan, provide an equal opportunity for Black voters to elect candidates of their choice hinges on how the districts perform for Black-preferred candidates in a functional analysis,” the Justice Department wrote.
“Should the 2023 Plan fail to cure the likely Section 2 violation, the Court must design and effectuate its own remedial plan,” the brief continued.