Black lawmakers say Alabama GOP’s proposed new congressional map insults the Supreme Court
By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Republicans advanced new congressional lines Wednesday, a proposed map that Black lawmakers called an insult after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the legislature to redraw districts to give Black voters a greater voice in elections.
The House of Representatives voted 74-27 to approve the GOP plan, which does not establish the second majority-Black district sought by plaintiffs who won the Supreme Court case. Instead, the GOP would increase the percentage of Black voters to 42% in the district. That’s enough, GOP lawmakers said, to consider it a political swing district — where either a Republican or Democrat could get elected — in compliance with the court. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.
“This is really a slap in the face, not only to Black Alabamians, but to the Supreme Court,” Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said during the floor debate. Rep. Prince Chestnut, a Democrat from Selma said, “Once again, the state decided to be on the wrong side of history.”
“We’re fighting the same battles that they were fighting 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 40 years ago, right here today,” Chestnut said. “Once again the (Republican) super majority decided that the voting rights of Black people are nothing that this state is bound to respect. And it’s offensive. It’s wrong.”
State lawmakers face a Friday deadline to adopt new lines after the U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld a finding that the current state map — with one majority-Black district out of seven in a state that is 27% Black — likely violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Republican House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle argued that the proposed lines satisfy the court requirement to provide greater “opportunity” to Black voters. The GOP-backed House plan would increase the percentage of Black voters in the 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Republican Barry Moore, from about 31% to 42.4%.
“We’ve drawn a district that provides an opportunity for the minorities to elect a candidate of their choosing,” Pringle said. “The court said we had to provide an opportunity and that’s what that district does.”
A group of voters who challenged the existing congressional plan said white Republicans drew the map “to maintain power by packing one-third of Black Alabamians” into a single majority-Black district while leaving lopsided white majorities in every other district. Alabama now sends one Black congresswoman to Washington — Rep. Terri Sewell, whose 7th congressional district is majority Black — and six white Republicans.
The appellate ruling that struck down the existing congressional map said Alabama should have “either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.” The language reinforced by the Supreme Court specified that a new map should include two districts in which “Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
Black lawmakers said Wednesday that history shows that Black candidates generally don’t win in Alabama unless they run in a majority-Black district.
“We’ve been held back too long. We’re human beings. We’re Alabama citizens. We work. We do things, but we don’t have the representation that we need,” said Rep. Pebblin Warren, a Democratic lawmaker from Tuskegee.
Republicans hold a lopsided majority in the Alabama Legislature and will control what ultimately passes. Representatives on Wednesday voted down an efforts by Democrats to bring up a plan, backed by plaintiffs who won the Supreme Court case, that would create a second majority-Black district.
The Alabama Senate planned to vote later Wednesday on a proposal that’s similar, but would put even a lower percentage of Black voters in the 2nd congressional district — 38.31%.
Once a new GOP map passes, the fight will shift quickly back to the courts. Republicans, who have been resistant to creating a Democratic district, are wagering that they’ll be successful in a second round of appeals. The three-judge panel could step in and draw its own plan if they deem it unacceptable.
“You can save your time. You can save your money, because we’re going to have a special master drawing this map,” Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said.