By Glynn Wilson –
The gerrymandering plan rammed through the state legislature by Alabama Republicans after they took control in 2010 has now been thrown out by a three-judge panel of federal judges in Montgomery as an unconstitutionaly overtly race-based map.
A three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Montgomery unanimously agreed that in 14 of the 36 legislative districts, legislators unjustifiably used race as the “dominant or controlling” consideration in redrawing districts.
The court enjoined the use of 12 unconstitutional districts in future elections, and ordered the legislature to correct the constitutional deficiencies before the 2018 primary elections.
After Republicans gained majority control of Alabama’s legislature in 2010, they created a new map that increased the concentration of black voters in several districts to more than 75 percent.
The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and Alabama Democratic Conference challenged the redistricting, arguing that it was designed to reduce black voting strength in terms of districts, to reduce the strength of black minority population in majority-white counties, and to prevent coalitions among black, Hispanic, Native American and white Democrats.
In 2014, the United States Supreme Court considered the plaintiff group’s racial gerrymandering claims, and in 2015, the court vacated the lower federal court’s decision upholding the redistricting plan and sent the case back for review. The high court found that Alabama had a statewide policy of racial targets designed to keep the black population in each majority-black district at or above the percentage of that district in 2010. It ordered the lower court to evaluate whether that policy resulted in illegal racial gerrymandering on a district-by-district basis.
Justice Antonin Scalia took issue with how the case had been presented in court, but wrote in dissent, “Racial gerrymandering strikes at the heart of our democratic process, undermining the electorate’s confidence in its government as representative of a cohesive body politic in which all citizens are equal before the law.”
Senator Gerald Dial, the Rublican from Lineville who co-chaired the redistricting committee, told the Montgomery Advertiser (paywall/popup warning) that he expected to convene the redistricting committee early in the 2017 legislative session to address the court’s order. The session convenes February 7.
All 12 of the districts thrown out were represented by Democrats, and 10 by African American legislators. The Democrat judge on the panel argued to throw out 24 districts.
This court also left it up to the state legislature to redraw the districts, but because there are so many in question, the order would likely require lawmakers to redraw all state House and Senate districts, sources say, giving Democrats a second chance to influence the voting lines.
“We’re thankful for the opportunity to look at this,” Alabama Senate Minority Leader Quinton Ross, a Democrat from Montgomery, said in reaction.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.