WASHINGTON (CN) — Alabama asked the Supreme Court on Friday to reverse a lower court ruling that threw out its Republican-friendly congressional map on the grounds that it violated the Voting Rights Act.
A three-judge panel told the state they couldn’t use its new congressional map for upcoming elections and would have to redraw the lines so Black voters could have a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Alabama’s Legislature would have to add another district where Black majorities held sway. The federal court’s ruling would also likely give Democrats another seat in the House of Representatives come November.
“The court-ordered redraw marks a radical change from decades of Alabama’s congressional plans,” Steve Marshall, Alabama’s attorney general, said in the state’s brief. “It will result in a map that can be drawn only by placing race first above race-neutral districting criteria, sorting and splitting voters across the State on the basis of race alone.”
Alabama claims that the Voting Rights Act can not be used to justify the “race-based redraw of Alabama’s race-neutral map.” The state claims that a map drawn by a neutral third party would segregate Alabamians in Mobile by race.
“Either way, without a stay, the State’s forthcoming congressional elections will be run on district lines that never could have been drawn by the Legislature but for sorting Alabamians on the basis of race alone,” Marshall wrote. “The United States Constitution cannot tolerate such a perversion of the VRA.”
After the 2020 census, Alabama decided to redraw its congressional map without considering race. The redistricted map was challenged by three groups, including the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP claiming violations of the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.
“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,” Deuel Ross, senior counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement following the court’s ruling. “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.”
According to the state, the suggested alternatives to Alabama’s congressional map would segregate white and Black Alabamians.
“Plaintiffs proposed various demonstration plans, but each added the second majority-black district in the same way: stretching both Districts 1 and 2 across the width of the State, segregating white Alabamians in District 1 and black Alabamians in District 2,” Marshall wrote. “Where historically those of all races in the Mobile area were grouped together in a single district, unified by the unique industry and culture of Alabama’s third-largest city, Mobile’s black residents would instead be joined with black Alabamians in locations more than 250 miles away.”
ACLU of Alabama counters that Black people represent 27% of Alabama’s population but are represented in only one of seven or the equivalent of 14% of the state’s congressional districts.
“We’ve said since the beginning that we would refuse to let unconstitutional maps be used without a fight, so we are pleased that the court recognized the importance of urgently remedying the congressional district maps ahead of November's election,” Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement following the federal court’s ruling. “It’s past time for Alabama to move beyond its sordid history of racial discrimination at the polls, and to listen to and be responsive to the needs and concerns of voters of color.”
Alabama argues that by sorting voters by their race you assume they all share the same political interests and will vote for the same candidate.
“The injunction is premised on the noxious idea that redistricting begins and ends with racial considerations,” Marshall wrote. “The race-based sorting of a State’s voters that the injunction will require ‘reinforces the perception that members of the same racial group — regardless of their age, education, economic status, or the community in which they live — think alike, share the same political interests, and will prefer the same candidates at the polls.’”
Alabama claims that if the Voting Rights Act requires this action, then it is unconstitutional.
The 2021 redistricting cycle marks the first since 1965 without preclearance which forced states with extensive histories of racial discrimination in voting like Alabama to get congressional maps approved by a federal court of the Department of Justice.
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