Court throws out Alabama’s new congressional map

January 26, 2022

A panel of three federal judges threw out Alabama’s congressional map on Monday, January 24, and ordered state lawmakers to draw a new one with two, rather than just one, districts that are likely to elect Black representatives, reports The New York Times.

The map that Alabama’s Republican-majority State Legislature adopted last fall drew one of the state’s seven congressional districts with a majority of Black voters. The court ruled that with Alabama’s Black population of 27%, the state must allot two districts with either Black majorities or “in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”

“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the panel of judges wrote.

The case is certain to be appealed and could lead to the U.S. Supreme Court addressing the question of whether lawmakers can draw political maps to achieve a specific racial composition—a practice known as racial gerrymandering. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts have no role to play in blocking partisan gerrymanders. However, the court left intact parts of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit racial or ethnic gerrymandering.

If Alabama legislators do not produce and pass a new map with a second majority-Black district within 14 days, the court will appoint a special master to do so, the judges wrote. That second district would be a significant legal and political victory for Democrats, who would be overwhelming favorites to carry it.

“This decision is a win for Alabama’s Black voters, who have been denied equal representation for far too long,” said Eric H. Holder Jr., the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “The map’s dilution of the voting power of Alabama’s Black community—through the creation of just one majority-Black district while splitting other Black voters apart—was as evident as it was reprehensible.”

Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl said he was disappointed in the court’s ruling and expected it to be appealed. “The basic outlines of Alabama’s congressional districts have remained the same for several decades and have been upheld numerous times,” he said. “What has changed between now and those past decisions to cause the court to act in this manner?”

According to the Times, the Alabama congressional map is the second drawn by Republicans to be struck down by courts this month. Two weeks ago, the Ohio Supreme Court invalidated a map drawn by Republicans which would have given the G.O.P. a likely 12-to-3 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation. North Carolina’s new congressional map also is enmeshed in a legal battle, and several other states are likely to be sued over their political cartography.

The three-judge panel comprises two Federal District Court judges appointed by former President Donald J. Trump and one by former President Bill Clinton. All three signed the opinion. The panel pushed back Alabama’s ballot qualification deadline from January 28 to February 11 for the state’s May primaries.

Research contact: @nytimes