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Alabama Attorney General’s Office says state is not defying redistricting court order


Alabama Attorney General’s Office says state is not defying redistricting court order

Sep 22, 2023 | 7:59 am ET
By Jemma Stephenson
Alabama Attorney General’s Office says state is not defying redistricting court order
The Alabama Legislature's approved redistricting map includes a 7th Congressional District (left, colored tan) that is 50.65% Black and a 2nd Congressional District (right, in pink) that is about 40% Black. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office told the U.S. Supreme Court that letting a third party draw new maps would harm the state, and insisted that Alabama was not defying federal court orders. 

In a 32-page response to plaintiffs urging the court to let a lower court ruling go into effect, attorneys wrote that they followed “traditional districting principles” and argued that drawing a second majority-Black congressional district would have amounted to racial gerrymandering.

The State of Alabama has been maligned as engaging in ‘open rebellion’ because it remedied the discriminatory effect in the 2021 Plan without going further to split Mobile, or Dothan, or the places in between on race-based lines,” they wrote. “No State could constitutionally draw such plans.” 

The case is known as Allen v. Milligan. A three-judge panel earlier this month directed a special master to draw new congressional maps after ruling that a map approved by the Alabama Legislature in July did not remedy Voting Rights Act violations the court found in 2022. The three judge panel found that Alabama had unconstitutionally packed Black voters into a single congressional district, and ordered the state to draw a new map with a second majority-Black congressional district or “something quite close to it.”

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling in June, after staying it last year.

The map approved by the Legislature in July created a 7th Congressional District in west Alabama that is 50.65% Black, and a 2nd Congressional District in the Wiregrass that is just under 40% Black. The plaintiffs in the case said that fell far short of the court’s instructions, which the lower court agreed with. 

“Remedying that violation requires creating a second district in which Black Alabamians would have that opportunity,” wrote the plaintiffs’ attorneys in a Tuesday filing with the nation’s high court. “Yet the Alabama Legislature never even attempted to do this. The Secretary’s concession that the Legislature’s 2023 Plan lacks such a district begins and ends this appeal.”

The new map approved by the Legislature included new findings presented as redistricting guidelines that prioritized compactness and “communities of interest,” in particular the Black Belt, the Wiregrass and the coastal counties of Mobile and Baldwin.The guidelines do not mention any communities in northern Alabama.

The Legislature is meant, per these criteria, to prioritize keeping the Wiregrass and coastal counties together. The Black Belt is meant to be split into as few districts as possible.

The Attorney General’s Office has argued throughout the process that their map performs best on traditional criteria. The question of where Mobile belongs has been a point of argument throughout the redistricting process.

The plaintiffs and some Democratic lawmakers have maintained that Mobile is tied to the Black Belt through migration patterns. The Attorney General’s Office and some Republican lawmakers have cited cultural ties between Mobile and Baldwin county.

“Respondents erroneously assert that the District Court’s instructions to split the Gulf can be justified because ‘the district court found that Plaintiffs’ plans connected’ a community of interest of Black Mobile and the Black Belt,” the Attorney General’s Office wrote Wednesday. “To the contrary, the District Court did not ‘find’ there was a newfound Black Mobile- Black Belt community of interest.” 

The courts to this point have not agreed with the argument. The Alabama State Board of Education, a predominantly Republican body, does not keep Mobile and Baldwin together in its district maps.

The state’s Wednesday brief also pushed back against accusations that the state was defying court orders, writing that ““that theme might work in the press.”

The attorneys also cited Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in June, which suggested that Section 2 enforcement may have an endpoint. The state suggested that its redistricting principles should trump any remedial maps proposed by the plaintiffs, and that otherwise, there would be “no logical stopping point” to the litigation.  

In a separate Thursday filing, “Elected Leaders of Color” filed a separate amicus brief which requested the court not grant a stay. The leaders include Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard; Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove; Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham; Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville; Rep. Sam Jones, D-Mobile; Rep. Patrice McClammy, D-Montgomery; Rep. Patrick Sellers, D-Pleasant Grove; Sen. Robert Stewart, D-Selma; Rep. Ontario Tillman, D-Birmingham; Rep. Curtis Travis, D-Tuscaloosa and U.S. House Rep. Terri Sewell.

“The Legislature has flouted its obligations in order to entrench power and to continue to undermine Black voters throughout the state,” they wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on a stay as of Thursday afternoon.