Federal court strikes down Alabama Congressional map for second time; organizers celebrate victory

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Grassroots organizers are celebrating a victory for Alabamians today as a three-judge federal panel tossed out Alabama’s second attempt at drawing a Congressional map, which failed to create a second majority Black district and ordered a special master and cartographer to redraw the maps in the coming weeks.

“We’re thankful that the federal court heard our argument. We are thankful to the many people who also heard our argument and showed their support by filling the federal courtroom and even the overflow room a few weeks ago,” said Evan Milligan, lead plaintiff in Allen v. Milligan and executive director of Alabama Forward. “Prior to that hearing, we had hoped our state legislature and governor would have heard us as well. Had they listened to the Supreme Court, we could have saved our state some money and avoided this Groundhogs’s Day loop that some in our state want us to remain trapped within. Nevertheless, we know that fair maps provide a way out of this trap. And we will do every decent thing in our power to ensure that our state produces district maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act our elders fought and died to realize for us. Amen and onward.”

The decision by a three-judge panel – Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and District Judges Terry Moorer and Anna Manasco – wasn’t a surprise as the three judges appeared skeptical of the state’s map at the August 14 hearing.

The state had been ordered to draw two majority-minority districts to give Black voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to represent them in Congress after both the same federal court and the United States Supreme Court agreed the 2021 map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“Twice, Alabama lawmakers have been asked to draw fair congressional districts that give Black Alabamians the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” said JaTaune Bosby-Gilchrist, executive director of ACLU Alabama. “ And twice, a panel of federal judges have found that Alabama lawmakers failed to do so. Elected officials ignored their responsibilities and chose to violate our democracy. We hope the court’s special master helps steward a process that ensures a fair map that Black Alabamians and our state deserve.”

The 2023 map in question created Congressional District 7 with just under 50.65 percent black voting age population. The 2021 map that passed had a BVAP of 55 percent in District 7. The state’s map also includes Congressional District 2, which has a BVAP of just under 40 percent – an increase from 30 percent in the 2021 map.

The judges ruled on the case today, Sept. 5, saying the state’s attempt at the map likely did not fix the VRA Section 2 violation. The court ordered the special master to present three map plans that will remedy the Section 2 violation by Sept. 25, 2023.

Dr. Adia Winfrey, executive director of Transform Alabama said the court’s decision was the only logical next step.

“Like in centuries past, equal justice for Black Alabamians has to be decided by the judicial branch of government,” she said. “And while the special master works out the details of the Congressional maps, Transform Alabama is harnessing this moment to show the power of the vote. There are thousands of Black Alabamians who believe their vote has no power, and they stay home on Election Day. Transform Alabama is using Hip Hop culture and Alabama’s redistricting process to change this thinking. We are encouraged by today’s decision.”

The court’s order gives specific mandates on the data, configuration and other components needed for the remedial plans.

The court specifically said each plan should “completely remedy the likely Section 2 violation identified in this Court’s order of September 5, 2023. Each map shall remediate the essential problem found in the 2023 Plan – the unlawful dilution of the Black vote in Alabama’s congressional redistricting regime. To that end, each proposed map shall “include either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”

The court said the new plan should also comply with the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act as well as the “One Person, One Vote” principle of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The judges also said that the special master is allowed to consider the plans that were submitted by the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs as well as the Singleton plaintiffs.

“We agree with the U.S. District Court that the Alabama Legislature’s proposed 2023 map ‘plainly fails’ to follow the law and the very clear court orders on how to address Alabama’s violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Jess Unger, senior staff attorney for voting rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “In doing so, the Alabama Legislature has acted brazenly and wasted Alabamians’ time in the ensuing months since the June Supreme Court decision. All Alabama voters deserve better, and we are hopeful that the forthcoming map by the court-appointed Special Master will permit ‘Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,’ as the court required.”

It is also important to note that the cost of the special master is to be paid for by the state of Alabama, thus costing Alabamians more money.

The decision from the court gives hope to organizers who have been on the ground working tirelessly to ensure that Black voters are seen and heard.

“Know that we are not excited about a victory that we have already won,” said Ronald James Jr., Alabama regional organizer of Black Voters Matter. “We are optimistic about the power that Black people will have now to elect representation that speaks to the new Congressional districts demographics. We are even more elated for the opportunity to continue building power in the Black and brown communities in this district and turnout the Black vote.”

Angela Curry, executive director of United Women of Color, agreed that organizers will continue their fight for fair maps and adequate representation.

“Alabama legislators who refuse to draw fair districts are showing us who they really are. Sixty years removed from the March on Washington D.C., where Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was delivered, Black Alabamians are still being denied the right to vote,” Curry said. “The state’s refusal to draw two Black districts as instructed by the Supreme Court demonstrates their disrespect for the law. It shows a lack of respect and a lack of regard for Black voters. The upholding of the law by the federal courts demonstrates our votes do count; our votes matter. We will continue to show up and collectively raise our voices to protect our right to vote and for representation in this state and nation that we have given so much to build and sustain.”

Cara McClure, founder of Faith & Works, said the ruling affirms the strength of the collective movement.

“Today’s federal court decision striking down Alabama’s second failed attempt at diluting Black voting power is a resounding victory for justice and democracy,” she said. “It reaffirms the strength of our collective determination to protect and preserve the fundamental right to vote, a right that has been hard-fought and hard-won. With the appointment of a special master to draw a new map that remedies the state’s Section 2 violation, we stand on the precipice of a brighter, more equitable future. Let this moment be a testament to the power of unity, resilience, and our unwavering commitment to building a fairer Alabama for all.”

Organizers also celebrated the collective effort it took to fight for fair and equitable maps in Alabama and how it the collective fight is not over.

“The court’s decision to strike down the state’s unfair and discriminatory congressional map for the second time underscores the urgency and necessity for organizers, advocates, and community members to continue to demand fair and equitable representation,” said Anneshia Hardy, executive director of Alabama Values. “While we share in the collective relief and hope that springs from this ruling, our focus remains on the journey ahead. The fight for fair representation is far from over, and Alabama Values remains diligent in ensuring that the redrawing process is transparent, inclusive, and truly reflective of our state’s diverse population. We deeply appreciate the ongoing support and engagement from Alabamians across the state, and we will continue to champion the cause for fair maps. This isn’t just about lines on a map; it’s about the rights, voices, and futures of Alabamians.

A hearing on the map plans that will be created by the special master has been set for Oct. 3, 2023 at the Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse in Birmingham.

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