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Allen v Milligan Ruling Response – Shalela Dowdy from AV/AVP TV on Vimeo.

Advocates and organizers from across Alabama encouraged Alabama’s Reapportionment Committee to redraw maps that give voice to the state’s Black and Brown communities and create more equitable Black voting power on Tuesday. 

Tuesday’s meeting was Alabama’s first reapportionment committee convening and public hearing in the state legislature’s court-ordered second attempt to draw fair maps that include two black majority Congressional districts. 

On June 8, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Alabamians who sued the state legislature for violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by packing black voters into Congressional District 7 and cracking the remaining black voters across Alabama’s other six congressional districts. 

The 2020 Census showed that the white Alabama population was declining and that black Alabamians now represent about 27 percent of Alabamians, but the Congressional maps passed by the Alabama Legislature in November 2021 only created one black majority Congressional district, which reflects only 14 percent of the Congressional representation in the state. 

The Alabama Legislature has until July 21 to submit maps that create two majority-minority districts to the three-judge panel. During Tuesday’s meeting, Sen. Vivian Figures said she felt there should be a committee member from the minority party elected as co-chair of the reapportionment committee. She nominated Rep. Chris England, while Rep. Steve Clouse nominated Rep. Chris Pringle. 

Pringle won the vote 14-7.

Next, Rep. Laura Hall nominated Sen. Bobby Singleton and Sen. Steve Livingston was also nominated. 

Livingston won the vote 14-7. 

Pringle announced that July 7, 2023, at 5 p.m., is the deadline to submit plans. Those plans must be submitted to district@alsenate.gov

Pringle said they have already had 100 plans submitted with them being submitted as far away as France. 

The reapportionment committee will vote on the redistricting guidelines, which are the same that were passed in May 2021, on July 13. 

“We aren’t hiding anything,” Pringle said. “These are existing guidelines.”

England asked for procedural guidelines and said that it would make sense that they change the guidelines since the original guidelines landed the state legislature in court. 

Pringle said that if legislators have any changes they will submit them to the lawyer. 

The Reapportionment Committee hired Dorman Walker once again to be the attorney/consultant in redistricting. Walker has served in this capacity during the last few redistricting cycles all of which have landed the state in court and having to draw remedial plans. 

At the beginning of the public hearing, Walker entered a letter submitted by the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs into the record outlining the map supported by the plaintiffs. 

Rep. England said that the plaintiffs in the case that got the legislature to redrawing were the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs, not the Singleton case. 

Pringle said that no one from the plaintiffs were there. 

Letetia Jackson, a plaintiff, let Pringle know that some of the plaintiffs were in the room. 

Sen. Rodger Smitherman said that this process is totally independent from the case and that they are in a remedy phase. 

The Plaintiffs in the case spoke first after being invited to speak, but did not sign-up to speak. Pringle allowed the plaintiffs to speak for five minutes each. 

Evan Milligan, executive director of Alabama Forward and lead plaintiff in Allen v. Milligan, said that their case was the one the Supreme Court ruled on in terms of hearing their argument in terms of the opportunity districts in Alabama. 

“Without opportunity districts for Black voters in Alabama, you wouldn’t have black voters in Alabama having the ability to elect candidates of their choice,” he said. 

Milligan said the plaintiffs’ remedial plan keeps together the 18 counties that are the core of the Alabama Black Belt. Those counties are either in District 2 or District 7 of the proposed maps. 

Milligan said that the plan addresses the packing and cracking that the Congressional map that was passed in 2021 had. Additionally, the map maintained the top portion of the map passed by the legislature in 2021. 

“We strongly urge you to consider our remedial map,” Milligan said. 

Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of NAACP, said they are there to express their full support of the plaintiff’s map. 

“It has the full support of all of the plaintiffs,” he said. “The map meets the standards set out by the Supreme Court to redraw the maps.”

Simelton said that SCOTUS recognizes that black voters should have the ability to elect a candidate of their choice to represent them in Congress. 

Next, Jackson  read into the record a letter submitted on behalf of the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs. 

“The VRA Plaintiffs’ Remedial Plan carefully adheres to the decisions of both the United States Supreme Court and the federal district court. The VRA Plan contains two districts that “perform” consistently for Black voters in primary and general elections. 6 It also remedies the cracking of the Black Belt community of interest, identified by the courts, by keeping the eighteen “core” Black Belt counties together within these two remedial districts, does not split Montgomery County or any other core Black Belt county, has zero population deviation, splits only seven counties and only ten precincts, 7 and is otherwise “guided by the legislative policies underlying [HB1] to the extent those policies do not lead to violations of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.”8 For instance, Districts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 largely maintain the “cores” of those districts as drawn by the Legislature in HB1, and Districts 1 and 2 reflect modest changes necessary to bring Alabama into compliance with the VRA.,” the letter reads. “Indeed, the overall “core retention” percentage of the VRA Plaintiffs’ Remedial Plan is over 80%. In further deference to the Legislature’s past policy choices, the VRA Plan splits Jefferson County in essentially the same manner as HB1 and it splits Mobile County similar to the way in which the Legislature did so in its enacted 2021 State Board of Education plan.” 

Trey Bruce of Birmingham, said that Alabama’s map never made sense to him given the makeup of Black Alabamians. 

“I have had a chance to review the letter and plan that the Milligan plaintiffs have submitted,” he said. “It makes sense to me. This will also keep protection for all of our Black Belt counties.”

Travis Jackson of Montgomery, who is an Iraq veteran, and said he fought for the rights of all Americans. 

“Black voters have always been the major factor for a much brighter democracy,” he said. “This is a proven fact throughout our American history. When it pertains to repairing human or civil rights (voting, healthcare, education, employment, housing and hunger advocacy), black voters were and have continued to become the political superheroes within our economy.”

Dr. Adia Winfrey, executive director of Transform Alabama, said that her organization helped mobilize folks to public hearings in 2021. 

“So we have been watching this case closely,” she said. “My concern is that we are less than three weeks out. We are already seeing how the plaintiffs are making a difference outside of Alabama. I implore you to put your politics aside and put the people of Alabama in the forefront.”

Ronald James  Jr. of Black Voters Matter said that numbers don’t lie. If we don’t know our history, it will tend to repeat itself. 

Alabama has a history of ignoring federal mandates, James said. 

“Make the maps equal and fair. The maps represented by the plaintiffs – the people  of Alabama – we are not begging for anything, we are just asking for a fair shot,” James said. Don’t split us up, keep us together. When we all vote, we all win. Do what’s right and let’s push Alabama forward.”

 

Dr. Joe L. Reed, of the Alabama Democratic Party said he wanted to commend the plaintiffs. 

“I have been privileged for the last 45-50 years for participating in reapportionment plans,” he said. “By and large we have been successful.”

Reed said that it’s important to protect one person, one vote. 

“My goal is to get two majority, black safe districts,” he said. “I’m asking the legislature to pass two majority, black safe districts.”

Reed said that in some of the maps presented they forgot to count the prisoners, many of whom can’t vote. 

Reed said he doesn’t believe that there is a safe majority district in District 2. He committed to the Alabama Democrats submitting a plan that would create a safe black district. 

“You got to be real and have a reality check,” he said. 

Attorney Jim Blacksher spoke about the map that the Singleton plaintiffs are supporting. 

Blacksher said the plan said that all of the Black Belt counties are in one district minus Barbour County and Jefferson County is a single district.

Blacksher said that Jefferson County is the one county that has demonstrated crossover voting to elect candidates supported by Black voters. 

England asked Blacksher if he agreed with the maps from Milligan and Caster plaintiffs. 

Blacksher said he does not think the map would satisfy strict scrutiny because Mobile County and others split along racial lines. 

“So, you do not agree with the map from the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs?” England asked. 

Blacksher said that the maps from the plaintiffs splits counties along racial lines to achieve a racial target of 50 percent-plus one. 

England said that Tuscaloosa County is split in the Singleton map. 

Blackshear said that it was OK if they split it for zero deviation as long as it wasn’t split along racial lines. 

England said that splitting counties is allowed when it’s necessary to create zero deviation in order to achieve the objectives set forth in the Voting Rights Act. 

Mike Bone from Baldwin County said he is in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and said it has been a united community for centuries. 

Rodreshia Russaw, executive director of The Ordinary People Society, said she was at the meeting to support the Milligan plan. 

She spoke about the fact that there are thousands of prisoners who are eligible to vote, but they are voting where the prison is rather than where inmates are from, which contributes to prison gerrymandering. 

David Russell of Birmingham spoke about having minority representation on the panel. He said that it appears that the public would see that even if you have two black districts you still have two white chairs. 

JaiGregory Clarke of Faith In Action Alabama discussed the historical injustices and systemic barriers that have hindered their ability to participate in our democratic process. 

Clarke encouraged the committee to draw maps that ensure that Black and Brown communities that do not dilute voting power. 

“By respecting the geographic, cultural and socio-economic boundaries of our communities, we can allow for cohesive representation that truly reflects their interests and needs,” he said. “Second, majority-minority districts must be established to empower our communities to elect representatives who understand our unique experiences and concerns. Transparency and public participation are paramount.”

 

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