After court ruling, Alabama GOP criticized for rejecting 2nd majority-Black congressional district

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Alabama state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, holds a copy of a GOP proposal at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. Figures said Republicans are flouting a court order to create a second majority-Black congressional district or something close to it. Alabama lawmakers are meeting in special session to draw new congressional districts after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling blocking the current map. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Republicans on Tuesday advanced proposals to boost the number of Black voters in one of the state's seven congressional districts, but critics said the plans flout a court order to create a second majority-Black district or something close to it.

Lawmakers must adopt new maps by Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld a finding that the current state map — with one majority-Black district in a state that is 27% Black — likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act.

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Republican-controlled legislative committees on Tuesday voted down proposals to create a second majority-Black district and advanced separate GOP plans that would increase the percentage of Black voters in the 2nd Congressional district from about 30% to either 38% or 42% That is short of the 50% sought by plaintiffs who won the Supreme Court case.

Republicans said their plan complies with the court’s directive to draw a district where Black voters are present in enough numbers to influence the outcome of an election.

"They told us draw a map with either an additional majority-minority district or a district that allows Black voters otherwise to elect the representative of their choice. I believe (this) map that you have before you best addresses the issues before the court,” Republican Rep. Chris Pringle told the House committee. Pringle said the district, which would have a Black voting age population of 42% under his bill, would be a swing district that could be won by either a Republican or a Democrat.

Senators advanced an amended map where the Black voting age population would be 38% instead of 42% in the 2nd district.

Marina Jenkins, executive director of the National Redistricting Foundation, which supported the court challenge to the Alabama map, said the GOP proposals don't “come anywhere close to achieving” what the court had ordered.

“Alabama Republicans are intentionally drawing political retention maps at the expense of Black Alabamians — in defiance of the Supreme Court and the Alabama district court. It is a continuation of the state’s long, sordid history of disenfranchising Black voters. Should either of these maps be enacted, it will be challenged in court,” Jenkins said in a statement.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, a Democratic lawmaker from Mobile, also said the proposal is “no where close” to what was suggested by the court. She said the district would remain under white Republican control with those numbers.

“We don’t think this is going to pass muster with the court," Figures said. She said the Republicans are headed down a path that will ensure extended litigation, “continuing to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money just so they don’t give all of Alabama’s citizens a seat at the table for their voices to be heard.”

Republicans have been resistant to creating a Democratic-leaning district and are wagering on what the three-judge panel will accept — or that the state will be successful in a second round of appeals. The three-judge panel could step in and draw its own plan if the judge's deem lawmakers' proposal unacceptable.

The three-judge panel found that Alabama’s existing congressional map diluted the voting power of Black residents.

“The appropriate remedy is a congressional redistricting plan that includes 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 lower-court panel wrote in its 2022 ruling. It added that the plan would need to include two districts in which “Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed, the Republican leader of the Senate, said lawyers have advised that the Senate plan complies with court order, although "there's going to be certainly more debate." He added that those drafting the plan are trying to weigh what is important to the court.

“Are you really wanting us to focus on community of interest issues, which they stated in the order? Or are we looking at voting populations? Which one is more important?” Reed said.

The proposals head to their first floor votes on Wednesday. The three-judge panel that blocked the use of the current map gave Alabama until Friday to submit a new plan for review.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, a Democratic lawmaker from Anniston, said Alabama has a long history of “refusing to do the right thing.”

"Don't continue to allow the courts to have to force us to do what we know is right," Boyd told her colleagues on the House committee.

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This story has been corrected to show that the first floor vote is Wednesday.