(CN) — What does the word “opportunity” mean? Because it wasn’t explicitly defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in its June 8 order striking down Alabama’s congressional map, the supermajority of Republicans in the Alabama Legislature left it open for interpretation.
So at the end of a weeklong special session mandated by the court to draw a new map by a July 21 deadline, Republicans determined “opportunity” looks something like a 40% chance.
The state, where only one of seven congressional districts features a majority of minority voters despite an overall population that is more than 36% minority, was tasked with drawing a new map. Specifically, the court ordered Alabama lawmakers to draw a second majority-minority district or “or something quite close.” As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the majority opinion, “Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act) requires political processes in a state to be ‘equally open’ such that minority voters do not ‘have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.’”
Before the map was declared unconstitutional, District 7 had a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) of 54%, while DIstrict 2 had a BVAP of 29%. When Republican state Senator Steve Livingston unveiled his final map about 12 hours before the deadline expired Friday, the BVAP of District 7 had fallen to 50.65%, while District 7 increased to 39.93%.
Considering the electoral history of District 7 in recent decades, Livingston argued even with less than 40% Black voters, they will still have the “opportunity” to elect a candidate of their choice without a majority voting age population.
“This plan was put together using compactness and communities of interest without looking at the racial score whatsoever,” Livingston told a conference committee Friday, where the plan was first revealed.
In the remaining five districts, white voters enjoy majorities of between 54.97% and 86.55%. By late afternoon, the map was headed to the desk of Governor Kay Ivey, who is expected to approve it ahead of an Aug. 14 court hearing.
Throughout the week, Democrats in the Legislature railed against the process of approving a new map and the Republican supermajority’s lack of transparency. Despite being asked several times daily, legislative leaders never produced functionality studies for their proposed maps.
Instead, it was the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice that ran the numbers, showing the Livingston plan would have produced a Black candidate of choice in just one out of 15 statewide elections between 2016 and 2020.
“Adopting an unconstitutional map is a bold strategy,” said state Representative Chris England, a Black lawmaker from Tuscaloosa who suggested the Livingston map was actually the product of Republicans in the Congress including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. “The worst part about it is this map is like a checklist of noncompliance. There was never any intent in to comply with [the Supreme Court] and there was never any intent to comply with the Voting Rights Act.”
Instead, England and other Democratic lawmakers insinuated the new map is yet another test of the courts, with state Republicans willing to push the boundaries of the Voting Rights Act until it is altogether eliminated.
“Your opportunity district … I guess that’s what you call an opportunity to lose, because it’s not an opportunity to win,” said state Senator Bobby Singleton, a Black Democrat from Greensboro who was a plaintiff in the consolidated case. “I don't know what you’re trying to achieve unless you just want the courts to draw the maps. What we’re doing here is playing games with the Voting Rights Act.”
If the parties cannot agree on a new map, the court has indicated one will be drawn by a special master.
State Representative Barbara Boyd, a Black Democrat from Anniston, noted there was no public participation during the special session and little to no legislative input after the Livingston map was unveiled Friday.
“This map had no consideration before the House or the people,” she said. “It’s supposed to be all, it’s not supposed to be for y’all. We have completely missed the mark on what an opportunity district is for Black people. It is a majority-minority district or something quite close to it. The maps we have seen aren’t even close, much less quite close.”Follow @gabetynes
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