(WASHINGTON)– After a protracted legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama residents will cast ballots in the 2024 congressional elections using a map that includes a second district designed to empower Black voters, a federal court ruled on Thursday.
The new order, from a three-judge panel in Alabama, determines which of three proposed maps should be used in the upcoming races.
About 27% of Alabama residents are Black, according to census data. Only one of its seven House districts is currently represented by a Black lawmaker.
In 2022, the state Legislature was ordered to redraw its districts to include two “in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it,” because the lawmaker-approved map likely did not comply with the Voting Rights Act by diluting Black voters’ power.
The courts later ruled that lawmakers failed to comply with that order, rejecting a revised map that was signed into law this summer.
Federal judges then instructed outside experts to draft new lines — a move that Alabama officials unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court.
Under the map that was accepted by Thursday’s order, Black voters comprise 48.7% of the voting age population in one district and 51.9% of the voting age population in a second district.
The judges wrote that they believe many of the objections and challenges to the new map are invalid, including the claim that the proposed alternative maps create racially discriminating districts.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had written in a statement on last month that if the case against the state’s map succeeded, Americans “will be grouped together by race alone, with counties and cities split down the middle—the same way that we were so wrongfully segregated once before.”
The judges, citing his and other statements, responded that “there can be no earnest argument that departing from the 2023 Plan [the maps signed into law this summer] in this way to remedy racially discriminatory vote dilution — while leaving 86.9% of Alabamians in precisely the same district they were in under the 2023 Plan — remotely approaches the abhorrent practice of racially segregating public schools for children.”
The judges also wrote, “We further find that the Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2024 elections based on a likely unlawful redistricting plan.”
The map that will be used in the 2024 election is likely to see Democrats win an additional seat in Alabama, given that Black voters there favor Democrats.
“The Office of the Secretary of State will facilitate the 2024 election cycle in accordance with the map the federal court has forced upon Alabama and ordered us to use,” Secretary of State Wes Allen said in a statement.
“It is important for all Alabamians to know that the legal portion of this process has not yet been completed. A full hearing on the redistricting issue will take place in the future and I trust Attorney General Marshall to represent Alabama through that process,” Allen said. “In the meantime, I will keep our state’s elections safe, secure and transparent because that is what I was elected to do.”
Civil rights groups had supported the lawsuit and cheered the ruling on Thursday as “a historic victory in addressing the decades-long effort to unfairly stifle the voting power of Black Alabamians,” Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
The ACLU of Alabama was one of the plaintiffs in the case.
The plaintiffs in the case, in a joint statement released by the national ACLU, called the ruling “an unequivocal win that will translate to increased opportunities for those who have too long been denied the fair representation they deserve.”
“With the adoption of a fair congressional map, the new opportunity district provides Black voters with a realistic chance to elect a representative of their choice,” Tom Miro, executive director of the Alabama Democrats, said in a statement.
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