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For Second Time, Fed Court Strikes Down Racial Gerrymander of Alabama Districts

The court ordered a cartographer and a special master to redraw the maps by the end of the month.

The Alabama State Capitol dome in Montgomery, Alabama.

A panel of federal appeals judges ruled on Tuesday that Alabama state legislative Republicans’ redrawn congressional map is still in violation of an original judicial order that called for the establishment of two majority-Black districts.

Within their latest order, U.S. Circuit Judges Stanley Marcus (an appointee of former President Bill Clinton) and Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer (appointees of former President Donald Trump) cited concerns that the legislature would once again defy their decree, and ordered a special master and a cartographer to jointly redraw a new map in compliance with their original ruling. They also ordered the new map to be completed by the end of this month, in time for the state to ready itself for the 2024 elections.

The appellate court found that Alabama’s original maps, which are redrawn every ten years after a U.S. Census, were in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Alabama appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the appellate court’s decision in June, a decision that surprised many legal experts due to the Court’s dramatic rightward shift in recent years.

In response, the state legislature passed a new map the following month, which again produced only one district in which Black residents comprise the majority of voters. Black residents sued against the new maps, which the appellate court found unlawful this week.

Remarkably, lawyers representing the state of Alabama did not argue that the new map was legal under the judges’ standards; rather, they again argued that the state didn’t have to abide by them, signaling that they would appeal, for a second time, to the Supreme Court.

“The State has explained that its position is that, notwithstanding our order and the Supreme Court’s affirmance, the legislature was not required to include an additional opportunity district in the 2023 plan,” the appellate court noted in its ruling.

“That concession controls this case,” the court added, finding the maps to be illegal.

The panel of judges expressed doubts that ordering the state legislature to redraw maps again would result in a different outcome.

“We 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 court stated.

The order continued:

We do not take lightly federal intrusion into a process ordinarily reserved for the State Legislature. But we have now said twice that this Voting Rights Act case is not close. And we are deeply troubled that the State enacted a map that the State readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires.

The judges also noted that the egregious action taken by the state legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to defy the court’s order seemed to be unprecedented.

“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,” the unanimous ruling noted.

“The law requires the creation of an additional district that affords Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The 2023 Plan plainly fails to do so,” the judges said.

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