Federal court strikes down Alabama congressional map after lawmakers defy court order

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A federal court on Sept. 5 struck down the Alabama Legislature’s congressional map that was drawn in July, finding that state lawmakers failed to follow an earlier court order requiring that they adhere to the federal Voting Rights Act.

The court ordered that a special master and a cartographer would have to prepare a new, statutorily compliant map.

The 217-page order (pdf) by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama suggests state lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature didn’t try to comply with the court’s order that it draw an electoral map consistent with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

“We do not take lightly federal intrusion into a process ordinarily reserved for the State Legislature. But we have now said twice that this Voting Rights Act case is not close,” the judges wrote.

“And we are deeply troubled that the State enacted a map that the State readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires.”

The decision continues:

“We are disturbed by the evidence that the State delayed remedial proceedings but ultimately did not even nurture the ambition to provide the required remedy. And we are struck by the extraordinary circumstance we face.

“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature—faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district—responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district. The law requires the creation of an additional district that affords Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The 2023 Plan plainly fails to do so.”

The panel did not accept the state’s argument that drawing a second black-majority district would unconstitutionally constitute “affirmative action in redistricting.”

“Unlike affirmative action in the admissions programs the Supreme Court analyzed in Harvard, which was expressly aimed at achieving balanced racial outcomes in the makeup of the universities’ student bodies, the Voting Rights Act guarantees only ‘equality of opportunity, not a guarantee of electoral success for minority-preferred candidates of whatever race,’” the panel wrote.

The Harvard reference was to Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, a June decision in which the Supreme Court struck down the use of racially discriminatory admissions policies at U.S. colleges.

“The Voting Rights Act does not provide a leg up for Black voters—it merely prevents them from being kept down with regard to what is arguably the most ‘fundamental political right,’ in that it is ‘preservative of all rights’—the right to vote.”

The new decision was issued by a three-member panel: Judge Stanley Marcus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, appointed by President Bill Clinton; and District Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer, both of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump.

Preliminary Injunction

In January 2022, the district court issued a preliminary injunction against Alabama’s then-secretary of state, John Merrill, a Republican, temporarily forbidding him from conducting any congressional elections in the state. Merrill has since been succeeded by Wes Allen, also a Republican.

The court found that instead of having one predominantly black congressional district, as it currently has, federal law and existing legal precedents required the state to have two predominantly black districts.

Even though 27 percent of Alabama’s population is black, white voters are reportedly the majority in six of the state’s seven current congressional districts.

The state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives currently consists of six Republicans and one Democrat. Both of the state’s U.S. senators are Republicans.

The new ruling came after the Supreme Court voted 5–4 on June 8 to strike down Alabama’s electoral map for congressional elections, ruling that it was racially discriminatory.

The nation’s highest court found in Allen v. Milligan that the map drafted by Alabama Republicans violated the provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA), which requires that states not racially gerrymander districts.

Representing the Biden administration, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar weighed in against Alabama.

“Voting in Alabama is intensely racially polarized, about as stark as anywhere in the country,” she told the Supreme Court. “The history and effects of racial discrimination in the state are severe. Black voters are significantly underrepresented.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) praised the new district court ruling on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying it was “yet another victory for Black voters in Alabama and for the promise of fair representation.”

“While we were outraged by the Alabama state legislature’s open defiance of the Supreme Court’s original order to create two majority-minority districts, I am nonetheless grateful that a federal court has now intervened to protect the voices of Alabama’s Black voters.”

Secretary of State Allen’s office provided The Epoch Times with a statement on the ruling.

“I am aware of the Federal Court ruling issued today. While we wait for a final map, my office will continue to support local officials as we ensure that we are prepared to conduct safe, secure and fair elections in Alabama,” Mr. Allen said.

“I, along with my team, remain committed to ensuring our election laws are followed and every legal vote is counted.”

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Sept. 5, 2023, in The Epoch Times.