Facing an order to draw new congressional district lines, Alabama Republicans on Wednesday filed competing proposals that increase the number of black voters in a district, but black lawmakers called the plan an insult to the court’s directive to give minority residents a greater say in elections.
The Republican-controlled House and Senate have filed separate plans that increase the number of black voters in the state’s 2nd congressional district, but do not establish the majority-black 2nd district sought by the plaintiffs who won the case for the Supreme Court last month.
The GOP plans would increase the percentage of black voters from around 30% to 38% under the Senate proposal, or 42% under the House plan. Republicans said it complies with the court’s directive to provide a second district where black voters can influence the outcome of congressional elections. Democrats said that doesn’t meet a three-judge panel’s directive to create a majority-black second district or “something pretty close to it.”
“This is truly a slap in the face, not only for black Alabama, but also for the Supreme Court,” Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said during the floor debate.
State legislators face a deadline Friday to adopt new lines after the US Supreme Court in June upheld a three-judge panel’s finding that the current state map, with a majority-black district of seven in a state that is 27% black probably violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
House Republican Acting Speaker Chris Pringle argued that the proposed lines satisfy the court’s requirement to provide a greater “opportunity” to black voters. Republicans said the redrafted district would become a swing district that could be won by either a Democrat or a Republican.
“We have drawn a district that offers an opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice,” Pringle said. “The court said we had to provide an opportunity and that’s what that district does,” Pringle said.
Republicans in the House and Senate have proposed different maps. Sen. Steve Livingston, Republican of Scottsboro, said the two houses will work to reach a compromise.
“The question is what is the opportunity there?” Livingston said. “I think everyone has a different interpretation of what opportunity is.”
Black lawmakers said the proposals invoke the state’s sordid Jim Crow history.
“Once again, the state decided to be on the wrong side of history,” said Rep. Prince Chestnut, a Selma Democrat. “We are fighting the same battles that were fought 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 40 years ago, right here today,” Chestnut said. “Once again, the (Republican) supermajority decided that black voting rights are nothing this state is obligated to uphold. And it’s offensive. That’s wrong”.
A group of voters who challenged Congress’s current plan said white Republicans drew the map “to maintain power by lumping one-third of Alabama’s blacks” into a single majority-black district, leaving lopsided white majorities in all the other districts. Alabama now sends one black congresswoman to Washington, Rep. Terri Sewell, whose seventh congressional district is majority black, and six white Republicans.
The appeal ruling that removed the existing congressional map said Alabama should have “either an additional majority-black constituency, or an additional district in which black voters have the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.” The judges added that any map must include two districts where “black voters comprise a majority of voting age or something close enough.”
Black lawmakers questioned that the 2nd congressional district, a rural district with strong ties to agricultural and military bases, would easily become a key district. They said history shows that black candidates generally don’t win in Alabama unless they run in a majority-black district.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said data shows former President Donald Trump would have won the district in 2020 under the Senate proposal.
“(It) tells you everything you need to know about that opportunity district,” Singleton said. “What black has a chance to win in that district? I just don’t see it.”
Republicans have a large majority in the Alabama Legislature and will control what ultimately passes. Republican lawmakers in both chambers rejected an effort by Democrats to introduce a plan, backed by plaintiffs who won the Supreme Court case, that would create a majority-black second district.
Once a new Republican map is approved, the fight will quickly return to the courts. Republicans, who have resisted creating a strong Democratic district, are betting the court will accept their proposal or the state will prevail in a second round of appeals. The three-judge panel could step in and come up with their own plan if they find it unacceptable.
“You can save your time. You can save your money, because we’re going to have a special teacher draw this map,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.