WHAT IS THE RECENT U.S. SUPREME COURT CASE REGARDING ALABAMA CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS?
July 1, 2023 | View PDF
After each census (last census in 2020), each state reconsiders its Federal Congressional voting districts. Alabama, by population has seven districts which will not change in at least the near future. Alabama at one time had as many as ten districts. The Voting Rights Act §2 was the focus of a Congressional bipartisan compromise wherein an effects test resulted but on the same hand it was determined that such section did not guarantee population proportional representation. Nineteen ninety-two litigation changed the Alabama map to where the districts were divided having one predominately African American district found in west Alabama and that currently meanders into the city of Montgomery and the city of Birmingham. The city of Montgomery is therefore split into two districts which to me I find strange. For the most part it divides the west part of the city which has been during my residence here since 1978 predominately African American and the east being predominately Caucasian; the east being a part of Barry Moore’s, District 2 and the west part of Terry Sewell’s, District 7.
To look at earlier voting maps from many years past seem to me to be more rational. But to meet the constraints of the Voting Rights Act, et seq. from the 1960’s, the map now meanders along political and thus mostly racial lines. Meandering voting lines are reminiscent of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a term invented in the early 1800’s to describe voting lines supported by the then Boston mayor later to become a U.S. vice president. In the 1800’s it was more difficult to create “gerrymandered” voting maps but much easier now with computers that can input needed data and use algorithms that produce about as many variable maps as you would like. Gerrymandering can consist of cracking, packing, hijacking and kidnapping. Cracking is redrawing lines so that the other party cannot get a majority where packing is drawing the lines around a predominant area. I can’t help but see gerrymandered lines when looking at District 7 but folks a lot smarter than me came up with the map. Hijacking is redrawing lines where two incumbents exist and one will have to go. Kidnapping is redrawing lines to exclude the address of the incumbent to force him or her out.
Following the 2010 census, a single predominately African American district still existed and has since the 2020 census. A new map was drawn after the 2020 census which looked substantially like the 2011 map. It was adopted by the legislature as HB 1. The case at hand deals with an argument that a second mostly African American district should exist through new redistricting. The 5-4 Supreme Court majority supports the original three plaintiff cases in favor of a second predominant African American district. Two of the cases were merged and the third was a parallel in Federal District Court. The case was heard by the United States Supreme Court in October 2022 but a decision was not released until June 2023.
The Supreme Court held,
“(a) The District Court faithfully applied this Court’s precedents in concluding that HB1 likely violates §2.”
“ (b) The Court declines to remake its §2 jurisprudence in line with Alabama’s “race-neutral benchmark” theory.”
“(c) To apply its race-neutral benchmark in practice, Alabama would require plaintiffs to make at least three showings. First, Alabama would require §2 plaintiffs to show that the illustrative maps adduced for the first Gingles precondition are not based on race. Alabama
would next graft onto §2 a requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate, at the totality of circumstances stage, that the State’s enacted plan contains fewer majority-minority districts than what an “average” race-neutral plan would contain. And finally, Alabama would have plaintiffs prove that any deviation between the State’s plan and a race-neutral plan is explainable “only” by race. The Court declines to adopt any of these novel requirements.”
“(d) The Court disagrees with Alabama’s assertions that the Court should stop applying §2 in cases like these because the text of §2 does not apply to single-member redistricting and because §2 is unconstitutional as the District Court applied it here. Alabama’s understanding of §2 would require abandoning four decades of the Court’s §2 precedents.”
Interestingly enough, Justice Clarence Thomas was a part of a dissenting opinion. He said, “The question presented is whether §2 of the Act, as amended, requires the State of Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population. Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it.” He further wrote, “Again, the maps’ key design features are:
(1) making District 2 majority-black by connecting black residents in one metropolitan area (Montgomery) with parts of the rural Black Belt and black residents in another metropolitan area (Mobile); (2) leaving enough of the Black Belt’s majority-black rural areas for District 7 to maintain its majority-black status; and (3) reducing District 1 to the
white remainder of the southern third of the State. If the State did this, we would call it a racial gerrymander, and rightly so. We would have no difficulty recognizing race as “the predominant factor motivating [the placement of] significant number[s] of voters within or without” Districts 1, 2, and 7.”
Justice Thomas looked at the percentage of African American Alabamians to Caucasian Alabamians. The ratio is less than 2/7. For the reasons above Justice Thomas dissented and was joined in dissent by three other justices.
This article is informative only and not meant to be all inclusive. Additionally this article does not serve as legal advice to the reader and does not constitute an attorney- client relationship. The reader should seek counsel from their attorney should any questions exist.
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