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AL to Get New Congressional Lines      09/27 06:17


   MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama is headed to the first significant revamp 
of its congressional map in three decades after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected 
the state's bid to keep using a plan with a single majority-Black district.

   The decision on Tuesday sets the stage for a new map with greater 
representation for Black voters to be put in place for the 2024 elections. The 
ruling marks a victory for Black voters in the state who had challenged the 
existing districts as racially discriminatory. Advocates said they hope it will 
bolster similar redistricting challenges elsewhere around the country.


   Justices denied Alabama's emergency request to keep Republican-drawn 
congressional lines in place and stop a three-judge panel from drawing new 
lines as the state appeals. The three-judge panel had ruled the state plan -- 
with one majority-Black district out of seven in a state that is 27% Black -- 
likely violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel said the new 
lines must include a second district where Black voters constitute a majority 
or "quite close to it."


   The three-judge panel will quickly proceed with the redrawing of new 
districts for use in the 2024 elections. The panel will hold a Tuesday hearing 
on three possible replacement plans proposed by a court-appointed special 
master. The court told plaintiffs and the state to submit any objections to the 
proposed plans this week. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the 
state will continue the legal fight to restore state-drawn lines, but Alabama 
will face a "court-drawn map for the 2024 election cycle."


   The three proposals would alter the boundaries of Congressional District 2 
in southeast Alabama, now represented by Republican Rep. Barry Moore, so that 
Black voters comprise between 48.5% to 50.1% of the voting-age population. It's 
a shift that could put the seat in Democratic hands. The special master said 
that candidates supported by Black voters would have won 13 or more of the last 
17 elections in the district. By contrast, the district drafted by GOP 
lawmakers had a Black voting-age population of 39.9%, meaning it would continue 
to elect mostly white Republicans.


   The decision was a victory years in the making for Black voters and advocacy 
groups that had filed lawsuits challenging the Alabama districts. Deuel Ross, a 
lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who argued the case before the Supreme 
Court, said the high court rejected Alabama's bid to "relitigate issues that 
have already been decided and openly defy what the court has said is a Voting 
Rights Act violation."

   Plaintiffs had likened the state's resistance to that of segregationist Gov. 
George Wallace's efforts in 1963 to fight integration orders. "Despite these 
shameful efforts, the Supreme Court has once again agreed that Black Alabamians 
deserve a second opportunity district," plaintiffs in the case said.

   The decision was a loss for the state that had tried to argue the Supreme 
Court's June ruling didn't necessarily require the creation of a second 
majority-Black district. Marshall accused plaintiffs of prioritizing "racial 
quotas" over traditional redistricting principle, and said the state will "now 
be encumbered with a racially gerrymandered, court-drawn map for the 2024 
election cycle."

   "We are confident that the Voting Rights Act does not require, and the 
Constitution does not allow, 'separate but equal' congressional districts," 
Marshall said.


   The winding legal saga in Alabama began when groups of Black voters 
challenged Alabama's congressional map as racially discriminatory. A 
three-judge panel agreed and ordered new lines drawn, but the Supreme Court in 
2022 granted Alabama's request to put that order on hold ahead of the 2022 
elections. However, justices in a 5-4 June ruling upheld the panel's decision. 
Lawmakers in July drafted new lines that maintained one majority-Black 
district. The three-judge panel on Sept. 5 chastised the state for flouting 
their directive and said they would step in to oversee the drawing of new lines.


   The redraw in Alabama comes as redistricting cases are moving through the 
legal pipeline in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere, making similar 
arguments that the states illegally weaken the political influence of Black 
voters. Ross, who is involved in the Louisiana litigation, said he hopes the 
Supreme Court decision sends a message that the "Louisiana case should move 
forward" similar to how Alabama did.

   Kareem Crayton, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, 
which had filed a brief on behalf of the Alabama plaintiffs, said, "I do think 
everyone in these other states is paying attention to this case."

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