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Federal judges select new congressional districts in Alabama to boost Black voting power

The plan sets the stage for potentially flipping one U.S. House of Representatives seat from Republican to Democratic control and for a second Black Congressional representative in Alabama

Selma Fire Station on Super Tuesday in Selma, Alabama
A voter is seen exiting a polling station at the Selma Fire Station on Super Tuesday in Selma, Alabama, in 2020.MICHAEL MCCOY (REUTERS)

Federal judges 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 judges ordered on Thursday the state to use the new lines in the 2024 elections. The three-judge panel stepped in to oversee the drawing of a new map after ruling 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 plan sets the stage for potentially flipping one U.S. House of Representatives seat from Republican to Democratic control and for a second Black Congressional representative in Alabama. “It’s a historic day for Alabama. It will be the first time in which Black voters will have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in two congressional districts,” Deuel Ross, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who represented plaintiffs in the case, said Thursday morning.

Black voters in 2021 filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s existing plan as an illegal racial gerrymander that prevented them from electing their preferred candidates anywhere outside of the state’s only majority-Black district. “It’s a real signal that the Voting Rights Act remains strong and important and can have impacts both locally and nationally for Black people and other minorities,” Ross said.

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%.

The Supreme Court in June upheld a three-judge panel’s finding that Alabama’s prior map — with one majority-Black district 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. Alabama lawmakers responded in July and passed a new map that maintained a single majority Black district. The three-judge panel ruled the state failed to fix the Voting Rights Act violation. It 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.”

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.

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