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Group disputes claims made during redistricting public hearing

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Legislative Committee on Reapportionment heard several arguments favoring one congressional district map over another last month during the committee’s first public hearing. But one argument in particular was strongly rebuffed by Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog group who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs in Allen v. Milligan.

Tasked with recommending a new congressional district map after the Supreme Court ruled that the one approved in 2021 likely violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters, the committee presented map proposals from three parties; the plaintiffs in Allen v. Milligan, the ‘Singleton maps,’ which originate from a separate lawsuit filed against the state, and what was dubbed the ‘CLC map.’

During the public hearing, while the vast majority of those who signed up to speak spoke in favor of the maps proposed by the plaintiffs in Allen v. Milligan, some challenged the constitutionality of them, arguing that they divide congressional districts along racial lines, something, they argued, could be cause for rejection by the courts.

The first public hearing of the Legislative Committee on Reapportionment saw a large attendance.

In a letter addressed to the Reapportionment Committee, the CLC rejected this argument, as well as provided additional context for the CLC map that was presented during the hearing, which it wrote was never intended as a serious proposal, but rather, a demonstration as to the state’s failure to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“A map derived from a brief written by CLC has been proposed by some as a potential remedial plan, but the committee must understand the context in which that plan arose,” the letter reads. “Additionally, we wish to dispute the claim that the Plaintiffs’ map may be unconstitutional. It is not.”

During court proceedings of Allen v. Milligan, the state of Alabama submitted briefs making its case as to why the congressional district map approved in 2021 was not a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits practices that discriminate on the basis of race, intentional or not. The state argued that it would have violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause were it to draw two Black-majority congressional districts as was being proposed by the plaintiffs.

While the court ultimately rejected this argument and sided with the plaintiffs, some, including civil rights attorney James Blacksher and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, still argued at the public hearing that the map proposed by the plaintiffs could be ruled unconstitutional due to congressional district lines being drawn along racial lines.

“As CLC explained in its brief, when a redistricting plan – like the current unlawful Alabama congressional plan – has racially discriminatory effects, the Legislature (and the court) necessarily must be conscious to race in remedying that discrimination,” the letter reads.

“As CLC explained in its brief, the argument advanced by the State – that the Legislature cannot consider race in seeking to prevent racial discrimination ‘is a remarkable perversion of the Fourteenth Amendment, which, it bears reminding, was ratified in response to the Civil War, slavery, and political suppression of, among others, Black Alabamians.’”

Furthermore, the CLC wrote that the constitutionality of the maps presented by the plaintiffs had already been decided by the courts, and that any further debate on the matter was unfounded.

“Any suggestion that it would be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander if the Legislature were to adopt two majority (Black) districts – such as the districts proposed by the plaintiffs – is unfounded,” the letter reads. “To begin, the district court already rejected the contention that plaintiffs’ demonstrative districts were racial gerrymanders. This alone answers the question.”

Evan Milligan watches the Legislative Committee on Reapportionment public hearing.

The dispute came to a head after the public hearing when Smitherman, who was a vocal critic of the maps proposed by the plaintiffs, was interrupted while describing his position to Alabama Daily News by Letetia Jackson, one of the plaintiffs in Allen v. Milligan.

“You cannot split the counties to achieve racial means, you split the counties to attain one vote, one person, and (the plaintiff’s) plan splits it as it relates to race… that’s one of the things that you heard was read by the opinion of the court, that counties cannot be split along racial lines,” Smitherman said before being cut off by Jackson.

“On that argument, I suggest that you all go back and listen to the oral arguments,” Jackson interjected.

“Excuse me, I’m being interviewed,” Smitherman responded.

“You should listen to the oral arguments,” Jackson said again.

“With all due respect, I would never do that to a person,” Smitherman said to Jackson as he left the committee room.

Regarding the CLC map that was presented during the public hearing, the CLC’s also wrote that the context of the map’s creation wasn’t made clear during the public hearing.

Another argument the state made during Allen v. Milligan was that the map it had adopted in 2021 was necessary to keep certain state regions whole, such as the Gulf Coast and Wiregrass regions of the state. The CLC map presented during the hearing, according to the CLC, was designed merely to demonstrate that lawmakers could have still kept regions whole while also providing two Black-majority or near-Black-majority districts.

“The illustrative plans from CLC’s brief were drawn in response to arguments advanced by the State that the Supreme Court has now flatly rejected,” the letter reads. 

“While the Legislature has flexibility in drawing a remedial plan, this committee should engage a qualified expert to analyze any potential remedial districts against a robust set of past election data to ensure the remedial districts will indeed function to provide Black voters the rights Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act guarantees them.”

Evan Milligan – the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case – told Alabama Daily News on Monday that he and his fellow plaintiffs “really appreciate the CLC clarifying that” in response to the letter.

Alabama Daily News reached out to every member of the Reapportionment Committee, though only received a response from Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, who said she was unaware of why the CLC map was presented without the context of its creation.

Members of the public will have until 5 p.m. on July 7 to submit their own congressional map proposals, which they can submit via email to [email protected]. The next public hearing of the Reapportionment Committee is at 1:30 p.m. on July 13.

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