Alabama Republicans Refuse to Create New Majority-Black District: “The Quintessential Definition of Noncompliance”

Alabama Republicans passed a redrawn congressional map that appears to spurn a court-ordered mandate to create two majority-Black districts in the state “or something quite close to it.” The new map was quickly signed by Republican Governor Kay Ivey on Friday, who said the GOP-dominated legislature “knows our state, our people, and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups.”

The maps were approved just hours before the court-mandated deadline, which reduces the percentage of Black voters in Alabama’s sole majority-Black district, currently represented by Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell, from 55% to 51%. Conversely, it would boost the percentage of Black voters in one of the state’s six majority-white districts from about 30% to about 40%.

“This is the quintessential definition of noncompliance,” State Representative Chris England, a Democrat who represents Tuscaloosa, said after the vote. 

The redistricting map comes a month after the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling on behalf of a group of Alabama voters who argued that the state’s congressional map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh sided with the liberals in the case, a major surprise after a decade in which the court’s conservative majority issued ruling after ruling watering down that law. The plaintiff in Shelby County v. Holder, the court’s landmark 2013 decision that deemed a different part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, was a county in Alabama.

But Alabama Republicans defended the redrawn lines as being in compliance with the court mandate. “I believe this map is an opportunity map and would comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” state House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle, who chaired the committee charged with redistricting, said Friday.

“Once again, the state supermajority decided that the voting rights of Black people are nothing that this state is bound to respect, and it’s offensive, it’s wrong,” State Representative Prince Chestnut said Wednesday after the House voted on its version of the maps. The process, he said, “shows Alabama still has the same recalcitrant and obstreperous mindset that it had 100 years ago.”

Speaking to reporters Friday, England said he thinks “the federal court is going to do what they’ve done for Alabama for decades and hopefully save us from ourselves and put us in compliance with their order to create a fair opportunity for African Americans.”

The federal court that originally ordered the state’s maps to be redrawn will hold a hearing in mid-August and could decide to appoint a special master to oversee the process.

How this plays out could have major implications for next year’s elections, with Republicans currently holding one of the smallest House majorities in U.S. history. And it’s not just in Alabama.

Several weeks after the Supreme Court ruled on behalf of Alabama voters, it also lifted a stay on a federal court order in Louisiana that similarly ordered the state’s legislature to redraw voting maps. In both states, redrawn maps could give Democratic-leaning Black voters a better chance to elect representatives in 2024 and could impact the composition of the tightly-divided House.

A Republican state senator told The New York Times that he’d spoken with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Friday, and that the House Speaker told him, “I’m interested in keeping my majority.”

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