New Alabama Congressional Map Where Black Representation Nearly Halved Is Nixed by Judges

Alabama Redistricting Maps Nixed Republicans Black Voters
A panel of three federal judges on Monday threw out new Republican-drawn congressional district maps over concerns that they dilute the power of Black voters. "Voting" signs are pictured outside a polling place in this undated file photo. Jacqueline Nix/Getty

A federal court has nixed an Alabama Republican redistricting effort that would have sliced representation of Black voters nearly in half.

A three-judge panel from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama granted a preliminary injunction against the new congressional district maps on Monday night. The judges, including two appointed by former President Donald Trump and one appointed by former President Bill Clinton, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed over the maps drawn by the GOP-controlled state legislature.

The court found that it was "substantially likely" the groups that sued over the maps would succeed in efforts to show that the maps were drawn in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965's provision against diluting the voting power of minorities. The judges wrote that the maps gave Black voters "less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress."

In the new maps, which were based on numbers from the 2020 Census, only one out of seven congressional districts was majority-Black. That left Black voters with representation of only around 14 percent, despite the state's population being 27 percent Black. The court's decision found that the disparity could be remedied by the legislature drawing new maps that would include an additional district where Black voters comprised a majority or near majority.

"Both sets of plaintiffs also suggest, and we agree, that as a practical reality, the evidence of racially polarized voting adduced during the preliminary injunction proceedings suggests that any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either compromise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it," wrote the judges.

The suit was brought by Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and individuals represented by lawyers from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Republican Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill was named as the defendant.

A spokesperson for Merrill declined to comment on the court's decision when contacted by Newsweek, while noting that the office does not comment on pending litigation.

The decision came less than two weeks after the Ohio Supreme Court threw out Republican-drawn maps that it said were in violation of state laws against partisan gerrymandering. The court ordered the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw new maps that did not violate the state constitution.

The rejection of the Alabama maps could soon be revisited by the U.S. Supreme Court, with the state's Republican Party Chair John Wahl telling The New York Times that he was disappointed by the decision but expects an appeal.

"The basic outlines of Alabama's congressional districts have remained the same for several decades and have been upheld numerous times," said Wahl. "What has changed between now and those past decisions to cause the court to act in this manner?"

Opponents of the new maps hailed the at least temporary victory as a timely decision to ensure that voters would be fairly represented ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

"We've said since the beginning that we would refuse to let unconstitutional maps be used without a fight, so we are pleased that the court recognized the importance of urgently remedying the congressional district maps ahead of November's election," Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement.

"It's past time for Alabama to move beyond its sordid history of racial discrimination at the polls, and to listen to and be responsive to the needs and concerns of voters of color," she added. "Not ensuring access to the ballot for all of the people and communities in Alabama is holding this state back from realizing its full potential."