A three-judge federal court ruled on Tuesday that Alabama's new congressional map likely violates the rights of Black voters and directed its court-appointed expert to come up with new proposals that would allow Black Alabamians to elect the candidate of their choice in a second district. While the court gave its expert until Sept. 25 to file his proposals, various plans previously put forth by the parties throughout the case give us a good sense of what a final map might look like, which we'll explore below.
We've arrived at this juncture because of a decision last year by the same court that struck down Alabama's previous House map, which Republicans passed in 2021, for violating the Voting Rights Act. To bring the state into compliance with the law, which forbids states from diluting minority voting power, the judges specified 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."
Yet in defiance of that ruling, which was upheld in its entirety by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Republicans in the state legislature created a new district in July where Black voters made up just 39.9% of the voting-age population. (Republican Gov. Kay Ivey even suggested that defiance was deliberate. "The Legislature knows our state, our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups," she said as she signed the map into law.)
Republicans did not dispute that their new map did not heed the court's directive; instead, they insisted that it was not possible to create two Black districts without impermissibly splitting communities of interest. The court, however, rejected that argument, saying it was "deeply troubled that the State enacted a map that the State readily admits does not provide the remedy we said federal law requires."
Republicans immediately pledged to appeal to the Supreme Court, but given that the justices already ruled against them in a 5-4 decision in June, it's unlikely that they'll fare any better this time. That means Alabama will very probably have a new map in place in time for next year's elections that would feature two districts in which Black voters would be able to elect their candidates of choice.
In order to prove their claims under the VRA, the plaintiffs were required to draw illustrative maps demonstrating that Black voters in Alabama are both sufficiently numerous and sufficiently geographically compact such that they can form a majority in a reasonably drawn district. That's already the case in the 7th District (which itself was created pursuant to VRA litigation three decades ago); to show that a second such district should be drawn, challengers put forth almost a dozen different such maps drawn by a pair of expert witnesses, four of which are shown here.
The lead plaintiffs also submitted a similar proposal to the legislature when it convened to draw a new map this summer, which is shown at the top of this post. (You can also find it in a larger version here and emblazoned on this T-shirt worn by Evan Milligan, the attorney and activist whose name adorns the case caption, Milligan v. Allen).
All of those plans feature the same general approach of decoupling the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery, two locales with large Black populations that Republicans deliberately merged into the 7th District in their 2021 map. They did so in order to reduce Black voting strength elsewhere—the very type of discrimination that the VRA was designed to thwart. They also carved up the Black Belt, a rural region home to many African Americans, three ways, using a portion of it to link Birmingham and Montgomery in the 7th while submerging the other two pieces in white districts.
In their latest map, Republicans gave Birmingham and Montgomery their own districts and split the Black Belt between the two. However, they kept the Montgomery-based 2nd District majority white (and very conservative) by including white voters from the city's northern suburbs and the rural Wiregrass region further south along the Florida border.
The plaintiffs would also have Birmingham and Montgomery anchor separate districts, with all (or nearly all) of the Black Belt divided between them. But, crucially, they would instead add heavily Black parts of the city of Mobile along the Gulf Coast to their Montgomery district. As a result, in every map proposed by plaintiffs, both districts would be home to a Black majority. Both would also very likely elect Black voters' preferred candidates to Congress—almost certainly Black Democrats, like the current representative for the 7th District, Terri Sewell.
Whatever unfolds next, the court is certain to move quickly. In Tuesday's ruling, the judges once again noted that Republican Secretary of State Wes Allen said a new map should be in place by early October in order to give officials sufficient time to prepare for the 2024 elections. They also encouraged their expert, attorney Richard Allen, to complete his work before the court's Sept. 25 deadline if possible. Once Allen's plans are submitted, the parties will have just three days to file any objections, with a hearing to be held on Oct. 3 if necessary.