On Thursday, a three-judge panel that ruled — twice — that maps drawn by Republican state legislators were unconstitutional racist gerrymanders approved a new map that was submitted by a court-appointed special master.
The new map will grant Black voters a stronger voice in the state, as the court found those voters had been politically suppressed by the previous map used in the 2022 midterms.
The new lines will apply to the 2024 congressional elections. Politically, the map will likely benefit Democrats, and could help balance the scales in the House of Representatives in 2024 given the current near-even divide in that chamber of Congress.
Previously, the federal court had ruled that the gerrymandered map was unlawful and in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and ordered the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, to make a new set of congressional boundaries. Alabama state officials appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which made a somewhat surprising decision this summer to uphold the lower court’s ruling.
Following that decision, however, state lawmakers drew another inadequate map, failing to abide by the first order to draw at least two districts in the state where Black residents would represent the majority of voters “or something close to it.” The federal judges, in assessing the second map, said they were “disturbed” by the Republican lawmakers’ move, and ordered a special master, working alongside a team that included cartographers, to draw a map in line with the original court order instead of trying to compel the legislature to draw them the right way.
Alabama Republican lawmakers again filed a petition for the Supreme Court to get involved. Late last month, the Court said it wouldn’t hear the appeal, and the special master’s team was able to work on the maps uninterrupted.
As a result, the special master team’s new map produces two districts that will empower Black voters, who comprise around 27 percent of the state’s total population.
“This plan satisfies all constitutional and statutory requirements while hewing as closely as reasonably possible to the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 Plan,” the court said in its ruling approving the map.
Neither the plaintiffs who originally sued against the gerrymandered map nor Alabama officials who disagreed with the need to redraw it were allowed to communicate with the special master’s team. Fees that were incurred by the team to produce the new maps will have to be paid for by the state of Alabama within 14 days of receiving a fee statement.
Three congressional districts were left entirely unchanged from the original legislative plan. Two other districts were “modified only minimally,” the court said, while the other two, where the vast majority of Black residents in the state are located, were altered to comply with the order.
Deuel Ross, racial justice attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, lauded the latest action by the federal court.
“In 2024 Black voters will have a real opportunity to elect 2 members of Congress for the first time ever!” Ross said on social media.
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