By ALEXANDER WILLIS and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Supreme Court’s Thursday decision to overturn Alabama’s congressional map set off speculation about when the Legislature will have to redraw the seven districts and which incumbents’ territory will change significantly before next year’s election cycle.
The SCOTUS decision came about 36 hours after Alabama lawmakers ended their 14-week regular lawmaking session.
Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, is on the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment and told Alabama Daily News he expected a decision on a special session to redraw the districts sooner rather than later.
“I believe that we’ll hear very soon more details about a possible timeline,” Roberts said.
The decision is the latest development in a lawsuit that alleged Alabama’s congressional maps, which were redrawn in 2021, were discriminatory, as just one of the state’s seven congressional districts is majority black, despite 27% of the state’s population being black. While the map’s proponents have argued they were drawn “based on race-neutral redistricting principles,” opponents, including President Joe Biden, have held that they violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting laws that disenfranchise voters based on ethnicity.
The 2024 primary election, in which the seven congressional seats will be on the ballot, is March 5. Qualifying for Republicans will end in November, according to the state party.
Looking at the current and proposed maps and demographics, several political experts said House District 2, currently held by Rep. Barry Moore, a Republican from Enterprise, and District 1, held by Rep. Jerry Carl, a Republican from Mobile, are the most likely to change.
“I have to believe that they’re going to have to go into Mobile County in order to collect large enough bloc of Black voters in order to form another majority-minority district,” David Hughes, associate professor of political science at Auburn University Montgomery, told ADN. “So it’ll be Barry Moore and Jerry Carl’s districts that get the most upset, with Mike Rogers’ (District 3) possibly coming in third.
“I have to assume at least we’ll see the Gulf shore split up, which was something that Alabama’s attorneys had argued the Supreme Court should not allow because that’s a community of interest, which is something that the Supreme Court has indicated in the past that mapmakers should try to keep (together).”
Sewell’s District is currently about 57% Black. Carl’s five-county District 1 includes Mobile and Baldwin counties and is 26% Black, but Mobile County is 36% Black.
Moore’s 15-county district, which includes the Wiregrass, parts of Montgomery County and Elmore and Autauga counties, is about 31% Black.
Both Moore and Carl are in their second terms in Congress.
“I’m disappointed that we find ourselves redistricting once again and that two conservatives joined with the liberal judges to create a majority and overrule Alabama’s congressional map,” Carl told Alabama Daily News. “I will always fight for south Alabama and will make sure our communities stay intact.”
Jess Brown, a retired political science professor from Athens State University, said he could see a scenario where Sewell keeps her minority-majority District 7, though with fewer Black constituents, and Moore’s District 2 becomes more purple by including more of Montgomery.
Brown said legislative leaders, many of whom live in north Alabama — will be hearing from their congressmen who don’t want their districts changed and say the problem should be fixed in the southern districts.
“Something tells me that will be the attitude and you’ll see most of the impact in the bottom part of the state,” Brown said.
Political consultant David Mowery said whatever the new map looks like, the process isn’t going to be fun for Alabama’s 140 lawmakers.
“It roils what looked like what would be a quiet summer in Alabama politics,” Mowery said. “… Not a lot of lawmakers are going to want to come in, forced into taking this vote that will essentially dilute Republican power.”
Now nine months from the primary, lawmakers’ pending decisions will change what might have been a comfortable campaign season for at least one incumbent Republican.
“Wherever they draw it, they’re creating a whole new organism,” Mowery said. “… Some people are actually going to have to go out and campaign.”
Thursday’s decision goes beyond Alabama and has the potential to put multiple Republican incumbents in danger, Hughes said.
“I don’t think it’s too outrageous to say that this could actually put the Republican majority in Congress in jeopardy,” Hughes said.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who successfully appealed a district court’s decision in early 2022 for new congressional maps to be drawn in the state, called Thursday’s ruling “disappointing,” but vowed to fight the decision.
“Although the majority’s decision is disappointing, this case is not over,” he said in a statement.
Taken up by the Supreme Court after Marshall’s successful appeal, the case is known as Allen v. Milligan, with the two parties being defendant Secretary of State Wes Allen and plaintiff Evan Milligan, executive director of the nonprofit organization Alabama Forward, who sued the state over its 2021 redistricting plan.
Milligan called the Supreme Court’s Thursday decision “a win for democracy and freedom,” and said that while the ruling would help secure voting rights for minority groups, the “fight is far from over.”
On the other hand, Allen said Thursday afternoon that he was disappointed in the ruling, but that “it remains the commitment of the Secretary of State’s Office to comply with all applicable election laws.”
Khadidah Stone, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case alongside Milligan, told Alabama Daily News that she cried “tears of joy” upon hearing news of the ruling, and that her hopes for a new congressional district map would include keeping communities whole. As drawn today, the maps split Montgomery, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties in half, something Stone argued diluted the black vote.
“When they decided to pack all the black voters into one congressional district knowing that we had the numbers, that’s a direct dilution of black political power,” Stone said. “When communities like ours are not at the table, we then become something that’s on the menu. So for this historical win, it now gives us a seat at that table to voice our concerns and voice our needs.”
‘If the court says that mistakes were made, that’s something we’ve got to address’
As the Alabama Constitution mandates that congressional district maps be approved by the state Legislature, a special session is likely to be called to approve new maps were the state ultimately ordered to do so.
While not in office during the drawing of the existing congressional maps, Rep. Mike Shaw, R-Hoover, said that while he believed lawmakers had acted in good faith when drawing the district lines, he felt it would be necessary to address them if the courts ruled them a violation of federal voting rights laws.
“I know Alabama has a troubled history when it comes to civil rights, and I think a lot of progress has been made in that area,” Shaw told Alabama Daily News.
“I certainly think that the redistricting was made in good faith with the right things in mind based on what I know, but if the court says that mistakes were made, that’s something we’ve got to address.”
Other lawmakers, like Rep. Curtis Travis, D-Tuscaloosa, were more outspoken in their support for the decision.
“During a severely short and limited map-drawing process, our caucus spoke at length about our view of the law and provided ways the state could craft at least two districts that reflect fair political opportunities for African-American voters,” Travis told ADN.
“We are therefore pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the unanimous district court which found the Alabama maps were discriminatory. We stand ready to participate meaningfully with our Republican colleagues to create a new map that fully complies with the law.”
Democratic Rep. Chris England, also from Tuscaloosa, championed the court’s decision as well, writing in a social media post that the ruling would “give other states the precedent necessary to challenge their maps.”
“Thankfully, what’s left of the (Voting Rights Act) will remain intact,” England said. “Alabama’s new congressional map should reflect Alabama’s actual growth and diversity.”
Randy Kelley, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, told ADN that the ruling “restores credibility with the Supreme Court, somewhat,” but that he looked forward to the end result. Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, told ADN that he was “pleasantly surprised” with the decision, and that it was something the state could be proud of.
“It is not enough to just quote Dr. King or invoke Rosa Parks,” Ensler said.
“The way that we honor their legacy is by upholding all that they sacrificed for, and the ruling today certainly is consistent with that, protecting and upholding the hard-fought rights of all voters in Alabama, but especially black voters. I think this is something that we can be proud of as far as the legacy of Alabama eventually getting it right when it comes to voting rights.”