By Jeff Helms
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling Thursday, potentially throwing out Alabama’s Congressional district map. The ruling will likely send shockwaves through the Legislature and Congress in the coming months.
The 5-4 decision requires state lawmakers to redraw the map to include two Black-majority districts. Alabama’s population is about 27% Black.
Alabama Farmers Federation staff members are monitoring to see how the ruling will impact state and national politics.
“With it being a presidential election year, primary elections will take place March 5, 2024. If the court ruling means new districts must be drawn for the 2024 election cycle, the clock is already ticking,” said Federation Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department Director Mitt Walker. “While we can’t say for sure how the newly drawn districts will be shaped, I understand the current districts most likely to be impacted are Congressional Districts 1 and 2, with seats currently held by U.S. Reps. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile, and Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, respectively. In order to create a second Black-majority district, it’s hard to imagine areas like Mobile and Montgomery will not be impacted in some manner.”
Currently, Republicans hold a 222-212 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, with one vacant seat. The Supreme Court’s decision could change that balance, especially if the ruling influences similar apportionment challenges in Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina.
New maps, however, won’t necessarily guarantee a Democratic advantage, Walker said. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, could see the minority makeup in her 7th Congressional District decrease as lines are shifted to satisfy the court. The result could be two districts with narrow Black majorities.
Federation External Affairs Department Director Brian Hardin said the decision came just days after the Alabama Legislature adjourned its 2023 regular session.
“Lawmakers had just made it back home to their districts when news came they will likely be called back to Montgomery to deal with redistricting,” Hardin said. “Legislative leadership had already hinted about a special session in late summer or early fall to address gambling. It’s yet to be seen how the court’s ruling will impact those plans. Given the timeline for upcoming elections, it’s logical to think redistricting would be the priority.”
Hardin noted the Legislature will be without former Joint Reapportionment Committee Co-Chair Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who did not seek re-election in 2022. Current committee members are Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro; Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook; Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile; and Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville. There is one vacancy on the panel following the recent resignation of Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.
The Supreme Court’s ruling sends the case challenging Alabama’s Congressional districts back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which ruled last year the map violates the Voting Rights Act.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall told 1819 News he plans to vigorously defend the state’s current Congressional districts.
“Although the majority’s decision is disappointing, this case is not over,” he said. “The court made clear that its ruling was based only on the preliminary injunction record compiled in just a few weeks before the January 2022 district court ruling. The state is still entitled to put on our full case at trial, and we are confident that the evidence will make clear that voters in Alabama, regardless of their race, have the same opportunity as any other members of the electorate to participate in the state’s political processes and elect representatives of their choice.”