BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Individual voters joined with civil rights and faith groups yesterday to file a pair of lawsuits in federal court challenging Alabama’s newly drawn political maps for state legislative and congressional districts. This is the second major lawsuit questioning
The lawsuits cite Alabama’s “sordid record” of its white majority using racial discrimination to maintain power. The suits charge that the newly drawn congressional redistricting map denies Black residents equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of choice, and that both the congressional and state legislative maps result from racial gerrymanders that intentionally pack and crack Black communities in the state, which denies such communities equal protection of the laws.
Because of this, the lawsuits describe how Alabama’s new district maps violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and how the congressional map also violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The cases were brought on behalf of Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, and several individuals who are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Hogan Lovells LLP, and the firm Wiggins, Childs, Pantazis, Fisher & Goldfarb.
Plaintiffs are requesting a federal court step in to enjoin — or halt — the maps’ implementation to prevent harms to Black Alabamians.
“By packing Black voters into a small number of districts and breaking up communities of color throughout the rest of the state, Alabama’s leaders are diminishing the political power of Black Alabamians. That is unlawful,” said Caren Short, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC, which represents plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the state legislative districts. “This builds on a long history of racial discrimination in voting in Alabama – particularly when drawing political districts – that demands a court-ordered redrawing of maps immediately.”
New political maps are drawn as part of a once-in-a-decade redistricting process triggered by census data, that determine the allocation of political power, representation, and ultimately resource access at every level of government across the country for the next 10 years.
“Cracking” refers to splitting communities of color into different districts to prevent them from exercising greater political power. “Packing” refers to placing people of color into the same district in greater numbers than necessary to elect candidates of choice to prevent them from exercising greater political power in surrounding districts.
According to the lawsuits, Alabama’s steadfast refusal to address the rights of its Black residents is directly linked to its historical and present conditions of racial discrimination against Black people.
In five of the six redistricting cycles since 1960, the U.S. Department of Justice or federal courts have found that Alabama’s legislative districts — congressional, state, or both — violate the rights of voters under the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.
“It is crucial that Black Alabamians have the opportunity to elect government officials we believe will best serve us,” said Benard Simelton, President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, a plaintiff in both cases filed today. “Although no longer controlled by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Alabama is still required to provide Black Alabamians that opportunity – these maps attempting to rob our state of its diversity notwithstanding. We will continue this fight for our dignity and political voice, as we long have, in the courts.”
Again, in this latest round of drawing political districts, Alabamians had no access to potential maps during the so-called “community input” process that predated the special legislative session. Legislative leaders drew political maps in secret, and at the 11th hour, presented the maps challenged today that use race as a predominant factor in determining district lines – but not in a way tailored to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
“I have lived most of my life in Montgomery,” said plaintiff in both lawsuits filed today Evan Milligan. “On more than one occasion, the people in these communities have dramatically impacted the course of this nation’s history – particularly as to civil and human rights…Even with the extended time provided by the delayed release of census data, our Legislature failed to study racially polarized voting so that their map-making decisions could be guided by an interest in protecting the civil rights of Alabama’s nonwhite voters.”
The cases are Thomas v. Merrill and Milligan v. Merrill.
To view a version of this release in full – including additional statements from plaintiffs and representatives from other counsel – please visit:
Thomas v. Merrill complaint challenging state legislative maps: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/complaint_-_thomas_v._merrill.pdf
Milligan v. Merrill complaint challenging congressional maps: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/complaint_-_milligan_v._merrill.pdf