By Jonathan Hardison
A three-judge federal panel is rejecting Alabama’s newly-drawn Congressional district map and sending it back to the legislature saying it likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The three-judge panel ruled in favor of plaintiffs who argued the new voting map underrepresents minority voters and says the state legislature needs to redraw the map by February 11 with “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, called the ruling “monumental news.”
“Increasing political representation of Black Alabamians is exactly what John Lewis and the Foot Soldiers who marched across the bridge in my hometown of Selma fought for,” she said in a statement. “It is the reason why I am the lead sponsor of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and have led efforts to get it signed into law.
“I am carefully reviewing the opinion and I look forward to working with the Alabama Legislature to fulfill the court’s mandate.”
The ruling also delays the January 28 qualifying deadline for Congressional candidates and directs Secretary of State John Merrill not to conduct Congressional elections based on the plan approved by the legislature last fall.
The judges say plaintiffs are likely to prove “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”
Lawmakers met in Montgomery in October of 2021 to re-draw the Congressional district map during a special legislative session. During that special session Democrats and advocacy groups pushed for another majority-minority district to be drawn in Alabama.
The three -judge panel made up of two Trump appointees and one Clinton appointee ordered the state legislature to notify the court if it can’t pass a newly drawn map by February 11. If it can’t, the court says it will hire “an eminently qualified expert to draw on an expedited basis a map that complies with federal law for use in Alabama’s 2022 congressional elections.”
Efforts to reach Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill for comment were unsuccessful. A spokesperson said his office couldn’t comment on pending litigation.