Alabama's Republican-run legislature passed a new congressional map on Friday after a panel of three federal judges found that the state's current map likely violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Black voters. The latest plan, however, is not likely to pass legal muster, and plaintiffs have already said they plan to challenge it. As a result, the court may step in to draw its own map to be used starting in next year's elections, which could see a Black Democrat replace a white Republican in the state's House delegation.
Last year, to remedy Alabama's problematic map, the court directed lawmakers to establish a second district where Black voters would be able to elect their preferred candidate. Mindful of the state's long history of deeply polarized voting patterns—white voters heavily support Republicans while African Americans overwhelmingly back Democrats—the court explained that any replacement map would "need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it."
While the judges didn't specify an exact proportion, Black residents of voting age make up just 39.9% of the GOP's newly created 2nd District, which you can see on the right-hand side of the illustration at the top of this post. (A larger version may be found here and an interactive version here.) With whites still constituting a 52% majority, Donald Trump would have carried the district by a 54-45 margin in 2020, according to Dave's Redistricting App.
It would therefore be very difficult for the candidate preferred by Black voters to win, since that candidate would almost certainly be a Black Democrat. (The state's lone district where Black voters already make up a majority, the Birmingham-based 7th, has continuously elected Black Democrats since it took on its current form in 1992—also thanks to litigation under the VRA—and is currently represented by one, Terri Sewell.)
Democrats have sharply objected to the map and similar earlier versions, criticizing Republicans for a rushed process that gave them no opportunity for input and arguing that the plan fails to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The judges will soon hear arguments to that effect, since the plaintiffs who challenged the original GOP map in the first place announced on Friday that they would object to the new map in court.
One Democratic leader even speculated that Republicans would actually prefer to see the three-judge panel impose its own map. "This map suggests to me that whoever drew it just didn't want to, you know, choose winners or losers, and they wanted the court to draw a map," said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, according to the Alabama Reflector. Such an outcome would, at least in theory, absolve GOP lawmakers from having to decide which of their party's own members of Congress should walk the plank.
The map's Republican sponsor also openly suggested that partisanship may have played a role. "I did hear from Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy," state Sen. Steve Livingston told the Reflector's Bryan Lyman. "It was quite simple. He said, 'I'm interested in keeping my majority.' That was basically his conversation."
Others have speculated that Republicans may simply be hoping to drag out the dispute, but the court has said it is "acutely aware that these proceedings are time-sensitive." It previously set an accelerated timetable for resolving any complaints about the legislature's new map, which Republican Gov. Kay Ivey must first sign into law, directing all briefs be filed by Aug. 7 and setting a hearing for Aug. 14, if necessary. The judges have also made preparations to tap outside experts to craft new lines, should they be needed.
Given the exigencies—the court noted that GOP Secretary of State Wes Allen said a new map should be in place by Oct. 1 in order to give officials sufficient time to prepare for the 2024 elections—it's likely that the judges will act soon thereafter. It's possible Republicans could appeal to the Supreme Court, but given the justices' recent ruling upholding the lower court in almost every particular, they aren't likely to meet with greater success there.
This piece has been updated to include remarks from Republican state Sen. Steve Livingston regarding his communications with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.