The Supreme Court delivered a major victory for Black voters on Tuesday when it rejected a request by Alabama Republicans to keep their gerrymandered congressional map in place for 2024, after a lower court found that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The high court's decision paves the way for the lower court to adopt a new map that creates a second district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate, almost certainly a Black Democrat.
Just one day earlier, on Monday, an expert appointed by the lower court had proposed three maps for the judges to consider. The court will hold a hearing next week beginning on Oct. 3 and implement a new map soon after. Those three maps are shown at the top of this story, and we'll explore them in more detail below. (Click here for a larger image, and see here for interactive versions.)
Alabama is in this situation because, after the 2020 census, Republican officials enacted a congressional map that illegally packed Black voters into the heavily Democratic 7th District while dispersing them elsewhere to ensure that the other six districts would remain heavily white and safely Republican. Plaintiffs representing Black voters consequently sued, alleging that this approach violated the Voting Rights Act.
A lower court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor last year, but the Supreme Court put that ruling on hold for the 2022 elections while Republicans appealed. However, the high court rejected the GOP's arguments and upheld the lower court’s ruling in a landmark decision this past June, preserving a key protection of the Voting Rights Act, though it meant Republicans got away with their illegal gerrymander in last year’s midterms.
Following the Supreme Court's ruling, the lower court gave the Republican-controlled legislature a second chance to draw a compliant map, instructing them to draw two districts that were either majority-Black or "something quite close to it." But in July, Republicans brazenly defied the courts, enacting a new map with just one majority-Black district and another that was only 39.9% Black—well short of a majority and therefore safely Republican.
This defiance prompted the lower court to reject that new map earlier this month and take over the mapmaking process itself. It was this ruling that Republicans were asking the Supreme Court to temporarily block while the litigation proceeded. If the court had blocked it, Republicans would have been able to use an illegal gerrymander in two of this decade's five elections, but the high court rejected them without any dissents noted.
The litigation in Alabama centered on how to create two districts that would elect Black voters' preferred candidates, which resulted in a focus on three of Alabama's largest cities—Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery—and the Black Belt. This rural region, named for its dark, fertile soil, runs west to east across the southern half of the state, encompassing Montgomery and 17 other counties. Due to the legacy of plantation slavery and Jim Crow, the Black Belt has a large Black population today, as do the three cities mentioned above.
The map that Alabama Republicans adopted in 2021 connected parts of Birmingham and Montgomery, linking them through a swath of the Black Belt to create the majority-Black 7th District. The rest of the Black Belt, meanwhile, was split among multiple majority-white districts.
The GOP's 2023 map removed Montgomery from the 7th and drew it into the 2nd District, but their revamped 2nd still contained heavily white rural areas north of the Black Belt and further south in the Wiregrass region along the Florida border. As a result, even though this iteration of the 2nd District contained 74% of the Black Belt's residents, it retained a white majority and remained safely Republican.
By contrast, all three of the maps proposed by Richard Allen, the court-appointed expert, would remove these whiter rural areas from the 2nd and instead give it most of Mobile in the Gulf Coast region, which would put the entire Black Belt inside the two Black-preference districts. Republicans bitterly resisted the idea of linking Montgomery and Mobile, but the court previously recognized that Black voters in both regions share significant commonalities. Republicans themselves had even connected these areas in a similar district on the state Board of Education map they enacted in 2021.
Allen heavily prioritized making as few changes to the GOP's 2023 map as were necessary to remedy the Voting Rights Act violation. Therefore, his proposals would not change the heavily white 3rd, 4th, and 5th districts, while the 6th and 7th districts would see only small changes. The 7th would thus remain a majority-Black and safely Democratic district linking part of the Black Belt with parts of the Birmingham region.
Consequently, only the 1st and 2nd would see major revisions, and all three of his proposals are very similar. According to Dave's Redistricting App, his proposed versions of the 2nd District would be 50.1% Black and favor Joe Biden 56-43 in 2020 under Plan 1, 48.7% Black and 56-43 Biden under Plan 3, and 48.5% Black and 54-45 Biden under Plan 2 (an election margin that rounds to 10 percentage points).
Any of these maps, if adopted, would very likely lead to a Black Democrat flipping the 2nd District, which is currently held by Republican Barry Moore. Moore could try running against fellow Republican Rep. Jerry Carl in the 1st District, but he'd likely face a major disadvantage in a primary. According to calculations by Daily Kos Elections, 66% of the 1st District's population under Plan 1 would come from Carl's current district, compared with just 34% coming from Moore's. Plan 3 sees Carl with his smallest advantage, 59-41, which would likely still be an uphill climb for Moore.
If a map resembling any of these three were adopted and a Black Democrat flipped the 2nd, Alabama would have two Black members of Congress for the first time ever. It would also mark the first time since the early 1960s that a Democrat has represented a district covering part of the Mobile area.