Federal Court Tosses Alabama's Preposterous Racial Gerrymander

Yesterday a three-judge panel in Alabama tossed the state's congressional map for violating the Voting Rights Act. And before you ask, it was two Trump appointees and a Republican nominated by Bill Clinton back in the days when blue slips were a thing and you had to get both the state's senators to agree to get a nominee out of the Judiciary Committee.

That's gotta sting!

So how racist do a state's maps have to be for three Gippers to say OH, HELL NO? Pretty fuckin' racist. In this case, Black residents make up 26 percent of the state's population, but somehow make up a majority of the voting age population in just one of the state's seven congressional districts. And that's not an accident. Republican legislators packed African American voters in District 7, which includes Birmingham and parts of the Black Belt, while cracking the rest of the state's minority population into majority-white districts.

This shit never would have flown if the Supreme Court hadn't invalidated the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearance requirement. Thanks Chief Justice John Roberts! But while the Supreme Court gave the GOP a green light to enact the most disgusting partisan gerrymanders, the portion of the VRA which bans racial gerrymanders is still hanging on, at least in theory.

The relevant subsection makes it illegal to enact a racial gerrymander which gives the members of a minority group "less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." A violation is established by a "totality of the circumstances," which in this case was evidenced by testimony that they could not possibly have drawn this map by accident.

“Black people drove a disproportionate share of Alabama’s population growth. Throughout last year, Black Alabamians publicly called on the Legislature to recognize this reality and sought equal representation in Congress,” NAACP Legal Defense Fund Senior Counsel Deuel Ross said on the organization's website. “The state ignored these demands, but we are deeply gratified that the unanimous court found that Black voters deserve full representation now. We look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure that Black voters are fairly represented in any remedial map.”

The court issued a preliminary injunction, instructing the legislature to go back and draw a fair map, noting that "any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it." This sentence was followed immediately by an unsubtle threat that the judges will draw a new map themselves if the legislature can't get its shit together quickly.

Noting that "Defendants express some doubt as to whether the state will be able to 'draw a map that can garner sufficient support in two legislative chambers and secure the governor’s signature' given the time exigencies," the court postponed the deadline for candidate registration until February 11.

"We are confident that the Legislature can accomplish its task," the panel writes. "The Legislature enacted the Plan in a matter of days last fall; the Legislature has been on notice since at least the time that this litigation was commenced months ago (and arguably earlier) that a new map might be necessary; the Legislature already has access to an experienced cartographer; the Legislature has not just one or two, but at least eleven illustrative remedial plans to consult, one of which pairs no incumbents; and [the plaintiffs' map expert Bill] Cooper demonstrated that he can draw a draft plan in part of an afternoon."

But if they can't do it in 14 days, the court promises to "retain (at the expense of the Defendants) 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."

Naturally the state's Attorney General Steve Marshall vows to appeal. But screw that guy, let's give the last word here to plaintiff Evan Milligan.

"We deserve to be heard in our electoral process, rather than have our votes diluted using a map that purposefully cracks and packs Black communities," he said. "Today, the court recognized this harm and has ordered our elected officials to do better. My co-plaintiffs and I hope that more Alabamians will embrace the important role we play in holding our officials accountable, until all of Alabama’s voters are fairly represented.”

[Caster v. Merrill, Docket via Court Listener / LDF / NBC]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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