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Judges Express Doubt That Alabama’s New Maps Are Less Gerrymandered Than Before

Lawyers representing Black voters in the state predict federal courts will ultimately have to redraw the maps.

On Monday, federal judges reviewing Alabama Republican lawmakers’ court-mandated redrawing of racially gerrymandered congressional districts earlier this summer expressed deep skepticism toward arguments the state made defending the proposed new maps, noting that it seemed as though the lawmakers chose to defy the court order altogether rather than abide by it.

Earlier this year, the state’s congressional districts were determined to be gerrymandered in a way that significantly diluted the voting strength of Black voters, who make up 27 percent of Alabama’s total population. A federal judge ruled that the state had to redraw its districts to create two of them that would comprise a majority of Black voters, “or something close to it,” in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

In a surprise ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that finding, sending the matter back to the Alabama state legislature and enforcing the lower court’s order. Despite that, however, the Republican-controlled legislature passed maps that still only created one district where Black voters were the majority.

In a hearing on Monday before three federal judges in Birmingham, lawyers for the state continued to make the already-rejected argument that they didn’t have to adhere to standards established in the Voting Rights Act. The judges, who appeared frustrated with the state lawyers’ claims, had to remind them that it wouldn’t be relitigating the matter.

“What I hear you saying is the state of Alabama deliberately disregarded our instruction,” Judge Terry Moorer said at one point during the proceeding.

In spite of the judges’ collective skepticism, lawyers for Alabama maintained that the new maps were as “close as you can get” to creating a second district with a majority of Black voters “without violating the Constitution.” Adhering strictly to the previous court order, they tried to suggest, would be a racial gerrymander in itself.

Lawyers for Black voters in the state rejected that line of thinking.

Abha Khanna, an attorney representing voters in the state who said the maps were a racial gerrymander, said Alabama lawmakers chose “defiance over compliance” with the new maps they redrew.

The state legislature chose to “thumb its nose at this court and to thumb its nose at the nation’s highest court and to thumb its nose at its own Black citizens,” Khanna added.

Deuel Ross, another lawyer representing Alabama’s Black voters in the case, said the judges’ questions toward the state’s lawyers indicated that the court itself will likely have to redraw the maps for the state.

“Our expectation is that the trial court will strike down the new map, and that if Alabama appeals to the Supreme Court … the Supreme Court will have the same result that it had just a couple months ago,” Ross said after the hearing on Monday.

Ross harangued the state’s Republican lawmakers for refusing to follow what the Supreme Court had told them to do.

“The law was really clear about what the issue is here,” Ross added.” Did Alabama draw a new opportunity district as the court required them to do? The answer is they did not.”

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