Alabama GOP proposals for black second district unlikely to win court approval, experts warn

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers say they are trying to satisfy a landmark Supreme Court order to draw a new district giving black voters a voice, but with hours before a court-ordered deadline on Friday, experts say the Republican proposals fall far short of what the law requires.

The Republican-controlled State House and Senate will meet on Friday and could propose separate plans to increase the share of black voters in Alabama’s 2nd congressional district. Legislative leaders say they intend to meet the deadline, which means both chambers must compromise on a plan.

Both plans preserve the current black majority of the 7th arrondissement. But neither plan comes close to creating a majority black second district in a 27% black state.

A three-judge panel ruled in 2022 that the current legislative map likely violates federal suffrage law and said any map should include two districts where “black voters comprise either a voting-age majority or something close enough.” Last June, the Supreme Court upheld this decision.

“I think this is another good example, perhaps the last and perhaps the most brazen, of a legislature that didn’t want to take the hint,” said Kareem Crayton, senior director of voting and advocacy at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“They claimed the court didn’t say what he said,” Crayton said.

The Brennan Center filed a brief supporting the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court.

An Associated Press analysis, using redistricting software, shows that the 2nd district proposed by state senators, with a black voting-age population of 38%, was consistently and easily won by Republicans in recent elections. The House proposal, with a black voting-age population of 42%, is narrowly split between Democrats and Republicans but could still rule out the preferences of black voters.

The plaintiffs who won the Supreme Court case vowed to fight either proposal if passed. They say it’s crucial that blacks have more representation in Alabama and other states if their votes are to be meaningful.

The debate in Alabama could be mirrored in fighting in Louisiana, Georgia, Texas and other states.

On Thursday, Republican leaders stressed they were trying to draw compactly sized districts and hold communities of interest together. One issue has been whether to split the Mobile and Dothan areas to add their black voters to a black-dominated second district, as those who sued Alabama have proposed.

Senate Speaker Pro Tem Greg Reed, a Republican from Jasper, said the Senate plan focuses more on keeping communities together and keeping districts as compact as possible, and less on the voting-age black population.

“How do we keep these communities together, how do they end up being recognized as communities of interest? It’s a big decision,” Reed said.

Reed said the House card, with 42% black voters in a second district, is likely as high as lawmakers are willing to go.

But those who study redistricting say it’s just not enough, given how sharply Alabama voters divide along racial lines.

“I would think 38 or 42 that the court is not going to approve,” said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist who has written a book on redistricting. He predicted that the three-judge panel will eventually draw its own card.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, a Democrat from Greensboro, said the 2nd Senate District “just doesn’t function as the opportunity district that I believe the court had in mind in terms of the numbers.”

Republican lawmakers hope to bring the issues of compactness and unified communities to the courts. They hope a second round of litigation, or even another trip to the Supreme Court, will allow them to avoid giving a second of Alabama’s seven congressional districts to a Democrat.

Bullock and Crayton were skeptical the High Court would immediately reverse its decision and said federal courts failed to consider compactness and preservation of communities when redistricting.

“He can’t take the lead on issues that are enshrined in federal law,” Crayton said, calling those arguments “dumb.”

Bullock said the appeal may not return to the Supreme Court in time for the 2024 election, and it could be that Republicans plan to lose the case but won’t vote for a plan that sacrifices a sitting Republican congressman.

“Another interpretation would be that they couldn’t bring themselves to make one of their friends,” Bullock said. “Let someone else take the blame. Let the courts take the blame.”


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