By Howard Koplowitz

Alabama House debates congressional redistricting
The Alabama House of Representatives debates a plan to reapportion the state’s seven congressional districts based on the 2020 census. Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, sponsor of the bill, is at the lectern on the left, while Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, is at the lectern on the right.

The Alabama Legislature’s redistricting plan for 2022 will not take effect for congressional races after a panel of three federal court judges found the map dilutes the voting power of Black residents and blocked the proposal.

Two separate federal lawsuits were filed against the redistricting map on claims that it violated the Voting Rights Act by packing Black Alabamians into a small number of districts — including one congressional district, Alabama’s seventh, represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham — and limiting their influence on state elections.

Blacks comprise 27 percent of Alabama’s population yet only constitute one of the state’s seven congressional districts — or 14 percent of the districts. Alabama’s 7th Congressional District was first drawn in 1992.

The panel of three judges from federal courts in Alabama found that the plaintiffs are “substantially likely to establish” that the map violates the VRA, adding that “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”

State Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office told the Associated Press it would appeal the panel’s ruling.

“The Attorney General’s Office strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days,” spokesman Mike Lewis wrote to the AP in an email.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys commended the ruling.

“Black people drove a disproportionate share of Alabama’s population growth. Throughout last year, Black Alabamians publicly called on the Legislature to recognize this reality and sought equal representation in Congress,” said NAACP Legal Defense Fund Senior Counsel Deuel Ross in a statement. “The state ignored these demands, but we are deeply gratified that the unanimous court found that Black voters deserve full representation now. We look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure that Black voters are fairly represented in any remedial map.”

“The congressional map our Legislature enacted fails Alabama’s voters of color,” added plaintiff Evan Milligan“We deserve to be heard in our electoral process, rather than have our votes diluted using a map that purposefully cracks and packs Black communities. Today, the court recognized this harm and has ordered our elected officials to do better. My co-plaintiffs and I hope that more Alabamians will embrace the important role we play in holding our officials accountable, until all of Alabama’s voters are fairly represented.”

The Alabama Legislature has a variety of alternative redistricting maps they can consider, the judges noted, and said a new map “will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

The panel said it would provide the Legislature with an expert to redraw the lines if Montgomery can’t come up with another map in two weeks.

“We are confident that the Legislature can accomplish its task,” the judges said, pointing out that lawmakers came up with the blocked map “in a matter of days” last year.

Qualification for Alabama political candidates was extended through Feb. 11 since new districts will have to be drawn, the panel said.