Court strikes down Alabama Legislature’s congressional map in scathing opinion

Evan Milligan, lead plaintiff in Allen vs Milligan redistricting case, speaks in front of U. S. Supreme Court at rally, when case was heard and decided 5 to 4 in favor of Black voting rights in Alabama.

By: Zach Schonfeld, The Hill, with some additional materials from other sources

A three-judge panel struck down Alabama’s new congressional map Tuesday, finding the GOP-led state fell short of complying with the Supreme Court’s recent directive.
The ruling paves the way for a court-appointed official to instead draw the lines for the 2024 election cycle.
“And we are struck by the extraordinary circumstance we face,” the federal judges wrote in a 196-page opinion.
“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” they continued.
The ruling orders a court-appointed special master to submit three new maps by Sept. 25 that fix the dilution of Black voters in the state. It could provide a boost to Democrats as they attempt to retake the U. S. House of Representatives in 2024.There are similar redistricting cases, under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia ,North Carolina, Arkansas and other states.
Alabama had submitted the new map after the Supreme Court in June blocked the state’s previous iteration in a 5-4 decision for likely violating the Voting Rights Act. Alabama’s map included one majority-Black district out of the state’s seven total districts, despite 27 percent of the state’s population being Black.
The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed a lower ruling that mandated the state draw new lines that “will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
But the Republican-led legislature then refused to draw a second majority-Black district.
It instead maintained Alabama’s one majority-Black district — which is represented by the state’s lone congressional Democrat, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, — and only increased the percentage of Black voters in the 2nd Congressional District from 30 percent to 40 percent. The Legislature’s plan reduced the Black voting age population in Sewell’s district from 56% to 50.5%
“We discern no basis in federal law to accept a map the State admits falls short of this required remedy,” the judges wrote. 
The panel comprised one Clinton appointee, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, and two Trump appointees, District Judge Anna Manasco and District Judge Terry Moorer.
State officials previously indicated the boundaries need to be finalized by about Oct. 1, so it can be in place for next year’s primary. 
After the court-appointed official submits its three maps, the state or other parties will have three days to object. A hearing would then be held Oct. 3, if necessary.
“[W]e have no reason to believe that allowing the Legislature still another opportunity to draw yet another map will yield a map that includes an additional opportunity district,” the judges wrote. “Moreover, counsel for the State has informed the Court that, even if the Court were to grant the Legislature yet another opportunity to draw a map, it would be practically impossible for the Legislature to reconvene and do so in advance of the 2024 election cycle.
One group of plaintiffs — individual voters and voting rights advocates — in a joint statement said Alabama “openly admits its intention” to defy the Supreme Court and the law.
“Sixty years ago, former Governor George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to stop Black people from desegregating the University of Alabama,” they said. “He moved only when the federal government forced him to do so. History is repeating itself and the district court’s decision confirms that Alabama is again on the losing side. We demand that Alabama again move out of the way and obey our laws — we demand our voting rights.”

The Hill has reached out to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s (R) office for comment. Knowledgeable observers of Alabama politics feel that Marshall plans to try to get the case before the Supreme Court again ,in an effort to reverse their 5 to 4 decision in favor of more and fairer representation for Black voters in the state.
Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in Allen v. Milligan and executive director of Alabama Forward, stated that the fight was not over to ensure fair voting maps.

“We’re thankful that the federal court heard our argument,” Milligan said. “We are thankful to the many people who also heard our argument and showed their support by filling the federal courtroom and even the overflow room a few weeks ago. Prior to that hearing, we had hoped our state legislature and governor would have heard us as well. Had they listened to the Supreme Court, we could have saved our state some money and avoided this Groundhogs’s Day loop that some in our state want us to remain trapped within. Nevertheless, we know that fair maps provide a way out of this trap. And we will do every decent thing in our power to ensure that our state produces district maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act our elders fought and died to realize for us. Amen and onward.”

Anneshia Hardy, executive director of Alabama Values, also commented stating, “The court’s decision to strike down the state’s unfair and discriminatory congressional map for the second time underscores the urgency and necessity for organizers, advocates, and community members to continue to demand fair and equitable representation. While we share in the collective relief and hope that springs from this ruling, our focus remains on the journey ahead. The fight for fair representation is far from over, and Alabama Values remains diligent in ensuring that the redrawing process is transparent, inclusive, and truly reflective of our state’s diverse population. We deeply appreciate the ongoing support and engagement from Alabamians across the state, and we will continue to champion the cause for fair maps. This isn’t just about lines on a map; it’s about the rights, voices, and futures of Alabamians”

“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