Court tosses Alabama Republicans’ racist re-districting map — again
A line of people wait outside the federal courthouse in Birmingham, Ala., on Aug. 14, 2023, to watch a redistricting hearing. Federal judges said Tuesday, Sept. 5, that they will draft new congressional lines for Alabama after lawmakers refused to create a second district where Black voters at least came close to comprising a majority, as suggested by the court. | Kim Chandler / AP

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Yet another federal court win where Black voters successfully contested a Republican white majority-rigged congressional remap, this time in Alabama, shows the Voting Rights Act still has some clout.

But the court’s ruling itself, in U.S. District Court for Northern Alabama, also sheds a light on what was lost when the U.S. Supreme Court emasculated the key Voting Rights Act’s “pre-clearance” section more than a decade ago.

That’s because, as the judges pointed out, the VRA’s key Section 5, to enforce federal “pre-clearance” on voting changes in states with histories of discrimination, including Alabama, would have prevented the whole mess in the first place, by outlawing its maps in advance.

In a unanimous, scathing decision, federal Judges Stanley Marcus, Terry Moorer, and Anna Manasco, flunked the Republican-dominated legislature’s second try at redrawing Alabama’s seven congressional districts. Alabama, which is 27% Black, has one district voters of color dominate. It should have two.

But the overwhelmingly white Republican—and gerrymandered—legislature has now passed two maps, each with only one majority-minority district. The latest one set that district at 51% Black and set a second at 40%, with the rest of the state’s Black residents scattered among the others.

The Alabama win is the latest and may not be the last, in a string of cases using the VRA’s weaker Section 2, which mandates voters must prove racial discrimination harms them, but after the fact. That’s what happened in Alabama.

A Louisiana fight over creating a second congressional district, out of its six, where Black Americans and other people of color would have enough clout to elect a member of Congress, is now active again. It had been on hold while the Alabama case played out in higher courts. The Pelican State now has one majority-minority district, anchored by New Orleans. Louisiana is one-third Black.

Another case, involving South Carolina’s eight districts, is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. The “Cradle of the Confederacy” has one Black lawmaker, influential Democrat Jim Clyburn, among its six representatives. The state is 26.3% Black and 68.9% white.

Computer-aided redistricting, notably white Republican “cracking and packing” Black voters into congressional and legislative districts to minimize their voting influence while maximizing the clout of whites, is one of the most insidious, and effective, ways of voter repression, notably but not exclusively in the South.

Other repressive moves include “scrubbing” voting rolls more often, with Black and brown voters targeted for removal, “poll watchers” who challenge voters’ rights on election day, disinformation, intimidation, and outright lies about when and where to vote, closing polling stations in minority neighborhoods from rural Texas to central city Columbus, Ohio, and even making it a felony to give food and water to voters standing in long lines in the hot sun.

That last ban, a notorious part of a Georgia voter repression law, was tossed out in federal district court there in mid-August, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported. That court also tossed the Georgia law’s rule that absentee ballot casters must put their date of birth on the voting envelope.

Exasperated Judges Moorer and Manasco, named by Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, and Marcus, a semi-retired judge named by Bill Clinton, said they would appoint a special master and a cartographer to draw new Alabama district lines by Sept. 25. The state’s white right-wing state legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed.

The justices there had tossed their first map as racially discriminatory, 5-4. The High Court ordered the legislature to try, try again and this time obey the Voting Rights Act. It tried again, but it failed and refused to admit it. The judges pulled no punches about Alabama’s defiance.

“The Voting Rights Act does not provide a leg up for Black voters. It merely prevents them from being kept down with regard to what is arguably the most ‘fundamental political right,’ in that it is ‘preservative of all rights’—the right to vote,” the three judges wrote, citing appeals court rulings.

That was one of their milder statements.

“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature—faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district—responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” the judges wrote.

“The law requires the creation of an additional district that affords Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The 2023 [redistricting] plan plainly fails to do so.”

Alabama’s Black voters “will suffer irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2024 congressional elections based on a likely unlawful redistricting plan,” the judges said. A state stall would harm them all the way until 2026, at least, the judges said.

“Courts routinely deem restrictions on fundamental voting rights irreparable injury. And discriminatory voting procedures in particular are the kind of serious violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act for which courts have granted immediate relief.”

The Black Alabamians’ lawyer who argued their case before the U.S. Supreme Court before, cheered. So did her clients.

“For months, Alabama refused to enact a congressional map that complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, in open defiance of a federal court order and the clear instructions of the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Abha Khanna, the Birmingham, Ala., civil rights attorney for the voters.

“Instead, Alabama passed yet another map that illegally dilutes the voting power of Black citizens. Thankfully, a federal court rejected Alabama’s desperate and disappointing attempt to deny Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. We are confident the Special Master and cartographer appointed by the court will produce a remedial map with the second majority-minority district required by law. We will continue to fight for fair and legal maps in Alabama.”

“Our nation’s highest court required Alabama to draw a map to fairly represent Black voters, yet the state refused. Alabama openly admits its intention to defy the law and the U.S. Supreme Court. But we will not back down,” the Black Alabamian voters who sued said in a joint statement.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.