U.S. Supreme Court Will Allow Alabama’s Congressional Map Be Redrawn to Better Represent Black Voters

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the redrawing of a new Alabama congressional map to proceed with greater representation for Black voters. New districts could help Democrats try to regain control of the House of Representatives.

The justices, with no notable dissent, rejected the plea by the state to retain GOP-drawn lines turned down by a lower court.

By refusing to intervene, the highest court permitted a court-appointed special master’s work to continue. Monday, three proposals were submitted to create a second congressional district where Black voters make up a majority of the voting-age population or very near to it.  

The redrawing of Alabama’s districts follows a decision in June by the Supreme Court when the state’s congressional map that was drawn to reflect the results of a 2020 census was found to dilute the voting power of Black residents. 

The map used in the 2022 midterm elections had only one majority Black district out of seven seats in a state where Black residents comprise over a quarter of the population.

A second district with a Democrat-leaning Black majority might send another Democrat to Congress while Republicans hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives. Federal lawsuits over congressional and state districts are pending in Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana.

Sharp racial divisions characterize voting in Alabama. Black voters favor Democratic candidates overwhelmingly, with white voters preferring the GOP.

Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in the redistricting case, called Tuesday’s ruling a “victory for all Alabamians” and said it puts the state much closer to a map that gives fair representation. “It’s definitely a really positive step,” said Milligan in a phone interview. 

The office of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall didn’t immediately comment on the decision.

A three-judge panel has a scheduled hearing next week on the proposed plans

The three-judge panel scheduled a hearing next week on the proposed plans submitted by the attorney appointed by the judges, Richard Allen. Allen’s three proposals would redraw the boundaries of Congressional District 2. Hence, Black voters make up between 48.5% and 50.1% of the voting-age population, which is a shift that could put the seat in the hands of a Democrat. 

In contrast, the district drafted by Republican lawmakers and rejected unanimously by the three judges had a voting-age population of Black voters of 39.9%, meaning it would continue to elect primarily white Republicans, according to data simulations run by those in opposition to the GOP plan.

The justices said Alabama legislators deliberately defied the directive to create a second district where Black voters could determine or influence the outcome. 

Milligan and other Black voters argued Alabama’s rearranging of its congressional map meant candidates that Black voters preferred didn’t have a chance to win outside a single congressional district, which is now represented by the only Black member and Democrat of Alabama’s congressional delegation, Representative Terri Sewell. 

“It basically said if you were Black in Alabama, your vote would count for less,” said Milligan. “It was our duty and honor to challenge that.”

The state wanted to use the recently-drawn districts while it appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court.

Although Alabama lost its case by a 5-4 vote in June, the state leaned heavily on its hope of convincing one member of the slim majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, to ultimately switch his vote.

Alabama’s court filing repeatedly cited another opinion Kavanaugh wrote in June that hinted he could be open to the state’s arguments in the suitable case. Justice Kavanaugh borrowed from Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissenting opinion and wrote that even if redistricting that was race-based was allowed under the Voting Rights Act for a certain amount of time, “the authority to conduct race-based redistricting cannot extend indefinitely into the future.”