Alabama redistricting: Special master submits three proposed congressional maps
Three proposed Alabama congressional maps will give Alabama’s Black voters a chance of electing their preferred candidates in two of the state’s seven congressional districts, a person overseeing the maps told a federal court Monday.
Richard Allen, the special master assigned by the three-judge panel overseeing Alabama’s redistricting process, wrote in a 44-page report that each map addresses Voting Rights Act violations found by the court in two prior maps approved by the Alabama Legislature.
“Each proposed plan also complies with the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, the one-person, one-vote principle, and traditional redistricting principles,” wrote Allen, a former Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner and veteran of the Alabama attorney general’s office.
The submission came as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a request from attorneys for the state to stop the process and allow an appeal to go forward. The U.S. Supreme Court had not ruled on the request as of early Monday evening.
The Richard Allen maps, like prior proposals, would create two congressional districts – the 2nd Congressional District in the Wiregrass in southeastern Alabama and a 7th Congressional District in western Alabama, including much of Birmingham.
But all three maps would have significantly higher Black Voting Age Populations (BVAP) than maps approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2021 and last July.
In two of the proposed maps, the Black voting-age population (BVAP) in the 2nd Congressional District comes in at 48.5% and 48.7%. In a third, it comes in at 50.1%. The configurations of the 7th congressional district have BVAPs of between 51.9% and 52.8%.
Under a map approved by the Legislature in July, that plan, the 7th Congressional District would have had a Black population of 50.65%, while the 2nd Congressional District would have had a Black population of just under 40%.
Richard Allen wrote in the report that the proposed districts were not drawn with a racial target.
“Districts were not drawn to attain any particular threshold of Black population, such as 50%,” the report said. “Rather, after they were drawn, districts were tested to determine how often the Black-preferred candidate would win elections within those districts.”
Based on simulations of 17 prior elections, the special master estimated that a Black-preferred candidate would have won elections in all three configurations of the 7th congressional district. In the 2nd congressional district, the Black-preferred candidate would win 13 to 16 of the 17 contests, depending on the map.
Deuel Ross of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, representing Evan Milligan and other plaintiffs who challenged Alabama’s congressional maps in 2021, said in a phone interview Monday that the proposals appeared “very close” to the maps the plaintiffs had proposed.
“We think that those plans are fair and they’re consistent with what the Supreme Court said, and the district courts said in this case, was necessary to remedy to violation,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen, the defendant in the case, wrote in an email Monday evening that the office was reviewing the maps. An email seeking comment was sent to a spokeswoman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Monday evening.
A running battle
The three-judge panel – U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. district judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer – ruled in January 2022 that the state’s 2021 congressional map had violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, banning discriminatory voting practices, by packing Black voters into a single congressional district.
Citing the high degree of racially polarized voting in the state – where white Alabamians tend to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tend to support Democrats – the court ordered the state to draw a second congressional district with a majority-Black population “or something quite close to it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the order for the 2022 election, but upheld the ruling in June.
The map approved by the Legislature in July included new redistricting criteria that said it was important for the state to preserve “communities of interest,” which it identified as the Black Belt, the Wiregrass and the coastal counties of Mobile and Baldwin. The criteria, which did not include any northern Alabama communities, appeared targeted at proposed plaintiff maps that connected Mobile to districts in the Black Belt.
The three-judge panel, which includes two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, rejected the map earlier this month and ordered Richard Allen to draw new lines, accusing legislators of ignoring them.
“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 judges wrote.
The state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the ruling on Sept. 11, arguing the state was being asked to abandon traditional redistricting criteria to hit racial targets in redistricting.
“I don’t think anything has changed in three months to change that ruling,” Ross said Monday, “And so our hope and expectation is that the Supreme Court is going to deny Alabama’s stay.”
Barring a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, the parties in the case will have three days to file any objections to the proposed maps. If a hearing is needed on the objections, the judges have set a tentative date of Oct. 3 in Birmingham.