Alabama GOP refuses to draw second Black district, despite Supreme Court order
Alabama Republicans rejected calls to draw a second majority-Black congressional district this week, instead creating maps that Democrats and advocates say completely ignore a recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
A federal court ordered the state to redraw its congressional map last year to include two districts where Black voters make up voting-age majorities, “or something quite close to it.” The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling this year, prompting the Legislature to call a special session to redraw the map this week.
But on Friday, the Republican-controlled Legislature is poised to pass a map with just one majority-Black seat. They’re currently considering two drafts: The House map includes a second district that is 42% Black, while the Senate map includes a district that is 38% Black. Lawmakers are expected to meet Friday in conference committee to select one of those maps, or a compromise.
Neither would give Black voters a real shot at winning congressional seats, Democrats and advocates said in interviews and floor debates.
“It’s an opportunity to fail,” state Sen. Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat from Birmingham, said of the Senate plan.
The district lines are being closely watched by many in Washington, where redistricting battles playing out in the courts in Alabama, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and other states could decide control of Congress.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and much of the rest of Alabama’s congressional delegation have reached out to Republican legislators, according to Republican state House Speaker Nathan Ledbetter.
Alluding to Tuberville’s past as the football coach at Auburn University, spokesman Steven Stafford said in an email: “Coach just wants the maps to be fair and for all Alabamians to be represented well. He trusts Alabama’s state legislators to get this right.”
McCarthy reached out to plan sponsors and is concerned about maintaining his House majority, Ledbetter said, while Tuberville called Thursday morning and said he was surprised the Supreme Court had ruled against the state, given the court’s conservative tilt.
“He was kind of surprised that we were in the situation,” Ledbetter said. “There are a lot of eyes on Alabama.”
McCarthy confirmed to NBC News that he talked to “a few” Alabama legislators.
“I’d like to know where they’re going to go and whether they’re in the process of happening,” he said. “I know the Democrats are trying very hard to redraw New York. … I think people should be very fair in this process to be able to see what’s happening. I like to know what’s going to happen out there.”
‘Flip off’ the Supreme Court
Republicans have insisted the maps would give Black voters an opportunity to elect the representatives of their choice as required by the courts, but Democrats, voting rights experts and the groups that sued the original maps disagree.
State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, a Democrat from Birmingham, expressed shock that GOP legislators “would blatantly flip off the United States Supreme Court” with the map in debate this week.
Kareem Clayton, an Alabama native who is a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said his team looked at 15 recent elections to see how the proposed district lines would perform.
They found that the candidate preferred by Black voters would win four times out of 15 under the House plan, while Black voters could elect their preferred candidate just once under the Senate plan. And that win was narrow, deriving from a remarkable upset: former Sen. Doug Jones’ historic upset over Roy Moore, a Republican accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers.
“The through line in both plans is obviously they’re prioritizing keeping the Gulf Coast together, the very thing the Supreme Court said wasn’t more important than delivering a serious, effective opportunity for African American voters,” he said.
The voting and civil rights groups that challenged the map as a violation of the Voting Rights Act promised to fight the new one as well.
Plaintiffs can submit objections in the coming weeks under the current court order, and the federal judges will consider them at an Aug. 14 hearing. The court can decide to hire an outside expert to redraw the maps if it agrees that the map is another racial gerrymander.
As the Legislature advanced two maps without a second Black-majority district, plaintiffs expressed outrage and shock.
Marina Jenkins, the executive director of the National Redistricting Foundation — one of the groups that supported some of the plaintiffs in the suit, Allen v. Milligan — slammed the maps in a statement.
“Alabama Republicans are intentionally drawing political retention maps at the expense of Black Alabamians — in defiance of the Supreme Court and the Alabama district court. It is a continuation of the state’s long, sordid history of disenfranchising Black voters,” she said, promising to challenge the maps in court.
NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said the plaintiffs were disappointed in Alabama’s responses to the court orders.
“This is exactly why the Voting Rights Act was first created — this sort of stubbornness of states,” he said in an interview. “Even when a court says that they’re violating federal law or the Constitution, they continue to fail to do the right thing. It’s troubling, but it’s part of a troubling history that has existed in America and Alabama for a long time.”