Federal judges pick new Alabama congressional map to boost Black voting power

Federal judges on Thursday selected new congressional lines for Alabama to give the Deep South state a second district where Black voters comprise a substantial portion of the electorate.

The three-judge panel for the U.S. district court in Alabama ordered the state to use the new lines in the 2024 elections. The judges stepped in to oversee the drawing of a new map after ruling last month that Alabama lawmakers flouted their instruction to fix a Voting Rights Act violation and create a second majority-Black district or something “quite close to it.”

The three-judge panel selected one of three plans proposed by a court-appointed expert that alters the bounds of Congressional District 2, now represented by Republican Rep. Barry Moore, in southeast Alabama, who is White. The district will now stretch westward across the state. Black voters will go from comprising less than one-third of the voting-age population to nearly 50%.

Selection of the new district lines follows a long legal fight that began after redistricting process undertaken by the Republican-led state legislature following the 2020 Census. 

The Supreme Court in June upheld the three-judge panel’s finding in January 2022 that Alabama’s prior map — with one majority-Black district, Congressional District 7, out of seven in a state that is 27% Black — likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The three judges said the state should have two districts where Black voters have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. 

Redistricting Alabama
A map of a GOP proposal to redraw Alabama’s congressional districts is displayed at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday, July 18, 2023. 

Kim Chandler / AP

Alabama lawmakers responded in July and passed a new map that maintained a single majority Black district. The judges ruled the state failed to fix the Voting Rights Act violation and said they were “deeply troubled” that Alabama officials enacted a map that they admitted didn’t provide a remedy for the likely Voting Rights Act violation. The panel blocked use of the map and directed a court-appointed special master to draw new lines.

The judges said the new map must be used in upcoming elections, noting Alabama residents in 2022 voted under a map they had ruled illegal after the Supreme Court put their order on hold to hear the state’s appeal.

“The Plaintiffs already suffered this irreparable injury once,” the judges wrote in the ruling. “We have enjoined the 2023 Plan as likely unlawful, and Alabama’s public interest is in the conduct of lawful elections.”

But Alabama’s GOP leaders turned to the Supreme Court for emergency relief again last month and asked the justices to allow them to use the redrawn voting map for upcoming elections. The high court declined their request in an unsigned order last week, with no noted dissents, allowing work on the new congressional lines by the court-appointed special master to continue.

The expert submitted his three recommended remedial maps to the panel last week, all of which Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall objected to as “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders that harm Alabama voters by subjecting them to racial classifications.” 

But the judges found that the map it selected to be used for the 2024 elections “completely remedies the vote dilution we found,” and contains an additional district — District 2 — in which Black voters have an opportunity to elect their favored candidate.

“We find that Remedial Plan 3 completely remedies the vote dilution we found and satisfies all applicable federal constitutional and statutory requirements while most closely approximating the policy choices the Alabama Legislature made in the 2023 Plan,” they wrote.

Under the new map, District 2 will stretch westward to the Mississippi, taking in the capital city of Montgomery, western Black Belt counties and part of the city of Mobile. It used to be concentrated in the southeast corner of the state. Under the court map, Black residents will comprise 48.7% of the voting-age population. The special master said an analysis showed that candidates preferred by Black voters would have won 16 of 17 recent elections in the revamped district.

The new lines adopted by the court in Alabama, when coupled with the outcomes of ongoinf redistricting fights taking place in the South, could be critical in the 2024 midterm elections, when Democrats will be fighting to wrest control of the chamber from Republicans. The GOP currently holds a slim majority of seats in the House.

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