“We must have two 50%+ Black districts in Alabama” – says Terri Sewell at forum on Voting Rights Act

Special to the Democrat by John Zippert, Co-Publisher

Speaking at a panel on the Voting Rights Act last week at historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama 7th District Congresswoman Terri Sewell said clearly, “We must come out of this fight and legal action in the Allen vs. Milligan case, with two majority Black Congressional districts, in Alabama, in terms of voting age population, for it to be fair and equitable. If the Alabama Legislature cannot come up with fair districts, we need to go back to the courts and get the judges to appoint an impartial master to draw the appropriate districts.”

Sewell organized the two panels on the tenth anniversary of the Shelby vs Holder Supreme Court decision, which invalidated and gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act, which provided for pre-clearance of voting changes in states and areas that previously experienced voter suppression and denial. The first panel analyzed the negative impacts of Shelby vs Holder on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities across America.

The second panel was on the impact and follow-through needed for the recent Supreme Court decision in Allen vs Milligan, which supported Section 2 of the VRA and found that the State of Alabama discriminated against the 27% statewide Black voters by only drawing one majority Black Congressional District, when two could be drawn and justified by the 2020 Census.

Evan Milligan, Executive Director of Alabama Forward, a Montgomery based coalition of Black and progressive activists, who is a named plaintiff in the Congressional redistricting case was on the panel, and reported that the
State Legislative committee met on June 27 and will meet again on July 13 to develop a recommended redistricting plan and map to a Special Session of the Legislature, convened by Governor Kay Ivey for July 17 to 21, 2023.

Milligan indicated, “We gave the legislative committee several suggested maps which will provide two majority minority voting districts and keep the western Black Belt counties intact in Congresswoman Sewell’s district, with Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. It will create a new district running from east to west across the state, including the eastern Black Belt counties, Montgomery, Lee (Auburn) and stretching to the Pritchard area of north Mobile County. A copy of that suggested map is included with this story.

Several of the panelists complimented Congresswoman Sewell on her willingness to “unpack” the lop-sided majority of Black voters in her current district and help to work to create two winnable districts for Black candidates. In response, Sewell said she supported any steps to make the redistricting maps more democratic but wanted to assure that there would be two 50%+ winnable districts at the end of the process.

Cliff Albright, Co-Director of Black Voters Matter, on the panel said,
“We are late in getting this change. The Supreme Court ruled last Spring that we would have to use the discriminatory map to vote in the 2022 Congressional elections. This resulted in a Congress controlled by Republicans. The courts and the Alabama Legislature must move swiftly to correct this injustice before the 2024 elections.”

Attorney Marcia Johnson of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, said, “We have cases in Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and other states, that could be affected by the decision in the Allen vs Milligan case, which would give Black voters a chance to change the national composition of the Congress in 2024 and make it more progressive and fair for all people.”

In the discussion by the first panel on the impacts of Shelby vs Holder, Tom Seanz, president and General Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) said, “Had it not been for Shelby vs Holder, Texas would be an electoral ‘swing state’ by now. The state adopted so many voter suppression acts, especially at lower levels in counties that make it more difficult for Hispanic and younger voters to participate.

Jaqueline DeLeon, a staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) said indigenous people on reservations have difficulty establishing residential addresses, which make it harder to register and also to vote by mail. She said, “Our problems are compounded by poverty and rural isolation which make voting that much harder for Indian people, who hold the balance of power in states like: Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan and Alaska.”

Congresswoman Sewell concluded the panels by saying we still need to pass the John R. Lewis Voter Advancement Act, which would strengthen the Voting Rights Act by restoring preclearance provisions; and The Freedom to Vote Act, which would create national standards for voting, including mail-in voting across the nation and due away with voter suppression acts passed in the past decades by state legislatures

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