WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Oct. 5, a federal court picked Alabama’s new 2024 congressional map drawn by a court-appointed special master. The plan has two districts — the 2nd and 7th Congressional Districts — where Black voters will have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
Unfortunately, for voters, particularly Black voters in Alabama, the road to a fair map has been an unnecessarily difficult one met with defiance from Republicans at almost every turn. This is the story of how we got here.
Alabama’s new, fair and representative map would not be possible without a long fought court battle brought by Black voters and civil rights groups. In 2021, Alabama passed a blatantly discriminatory map and continued to defend it to the bitter end. Along the way, Republican officials adopted a cynical ploy to attempt to overturn Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and defied federal court orders.
In 2021, Alabama passed a new congressional map and voters immediately sued.
In the fall of 2021, Alabama enacted a new congressional map based on 2020 census data that maintained a single majority-Black district out of seven total districts. Black voters can elect the candidate of their choice in only one congressional district even though Black Alabamians compose more than 27% of the state’s population, Alabama’s Black population is sufficiently large and compact, Black voters are politically cohesive and there is racially polarized voting in the state. Black voters and civil rights groups immediately filed lawsuits challenging the map. On Jan. 24, 2022, a district court blocked the map after finding it diluted the voting strength of Black Alabamians.
The district court found that the plaintiffs were “substantially likely to prevail on their claim under the Voting Rights Act, under the statutory framework, Supreme Court precedent, and Eleventh Circuit precedent” and therefore blocked the map that only contained a single majority-Black district.
Importantly, the panel, composed of two Trump appointees and one Reagan appointee, held that any new congressional plan “will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority, in 2022, Alabama voters voted under a likely illegal map — plain and simple.
Instead of passing a new map that does not dilute the voting power of Black voters, in January 2022, Alabama Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court, which stepped in to ensure that Alabamans voted under a likely illegal map in 2022.
A month later, in a 5-4 order, the Supreme Court — via its shadow docket — paused the district court’s order requiring Alabama to draw a new congressional map and effectively ensured that Alabama voters would vote under an illegal map in 2022.
In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, criticized the Court’s majority for pausing the decision without full briefing or argument, writing that the Supreme Court’s decision “does a disservice to Black Alabamians who under that precedent have had their electoral power diminished—in violation of a law this Court once knew to buttress all of American democracy.”
After its shadow docket decision, the Court added the case to its merits docket, placing Section 2 in the spotlight for the 2022 term. While many worried that the Court would use this opportunity to dismantle what is left of the VRA, the Court ultimately affirmed the three-judge panel’s decision that blocked the state’s map and upheld Section 2.
On June 8, 2023, the Supreme Court kept Section 2 intact in Allen v. Milligan.
The majority opinion — written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan,Ketanji Brown Jackson and in part by Justice Brett Kavanaugh — affirmed that Alabama would indeed need to adopt a new map for 2024.
“We see no reason to disturb the District Court’s careful factual findings,” the Court held.
Importantly, the Supreme Court also left Section 2 untouched. As a result, the case went back down to the lower court to resume litigation.
At the district court, Alabama Republicans once again tried to force voters to vote under an illegal map.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the district court ordered the Legislature to submit a map to the court by July 21. The plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit submitted a proposed plan to the Legislature, but ultimately Republicans ignored calls from Black legislators, activists and community members to adopt a plan that included two majority-Black districts.
Public hearings were held, but Republicans never introduced their plans during these public meetings. Instead, Republicans finally introduced their plans on the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s special session and ultimately passed a new plan “along racial lines (with the exception of one Black member of the house).”
At the time, in an interview with Democracy Docket, Alabama state Rep. Chris England (D) explained that Republican-sponsored plans were not publicly available before the Legislature’s special session: “Neither one of the proposals that you see Republicans currently arguing between in the House and the Senate have withstood any public scrutiny. They were both introduced after the public hearings.”
Despite state Sen. Vivian Figures (D) and England providing the VRA Plaintiffs’ Plan to the Legislature, Alabama Republicans advanced their own plans that contain only one majority-Black district. England explained, “Interestingly enough, if they had just agreed on our map, we would likely be sailing our way to a court where they sign off on it and we would move on. But they would much rather blatantly violate the order, use a losing argument in hopes of either overturning Section 2, or delaying this process long enough to use this illegal map for another election cycle.”
By passing a non-compliant map, the Republican-controlled Legislature blatantly ignored the court’s ruling. England underscored this critical point: “I think, if you Googled the word non-transparent, the process that we use to pass these maps would come up. And if you then turned around and Googled non-compliant, you would see the two maps that the Republicans have produced in this process.”
The sponsor of one of the Republican proposed plans, Steve Livingston (R), stated that he spoke with former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and McCarthy simply declared: “I’m interested in keeping my majority.”
Embracing legislators’ defiance, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the new map into law that does not have two majority-Black districts.
The map Ivey signed blatantly violated a federal court order, but Alabama Republicans did not only not seem to care, they seemed to revel in their own defiance. Republican officials continued to argue that they know what is best for their state despite knowingly harming minority communities.
“Following the U.S. Supreme Court order, I called the Alabama Legislature into a special session to readdress our congressional map. The Legislature knows our state, our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups, and I am pleased that they answered the call, remained focused and produced new districts ahead of the court deadline.” Gov. Kay Ivey (R) wrote after signing Alabama’s new congressional map into law.
This new Republican-backed plan had a Black voting-age population of 39.93% in the state’s 2nd Congressional District and 50.65% in the 7th Congressional District, clearly violating the district court’s 2022 order stating that “any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
The echoes of such defiance harken back to conservative reactionaries’ opposition to desegregation. In the months after Brown v. Board of Education, conservative reactionaries played by a similar playbook. As staff writer Paige Anderholm wrote,
In the months that followed [Brown v. Board], full compliance varied from state to state, including some states that outright refused to comply with the decision. In fact, white, Southern politicians gathered after Chief Justice Earl Warren finished reading the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in Brown 1 and vowed to defy the Court with a plan of concerted “massive resistance.’
In the wake of Alabama Republicans’ defiance, three judges ruled against the state again. This time, they even reprimanded the state’s behavior.
On Sept. 5, a federal court blocked the implementation of Alabama’s new congressional map — enacted by the state’s Republican governor and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature — that does not have a second majority-Black district.
The three judge panel — composed of two Trump appointees and one Reagan appointee — found that the Republican-backed plan “perpetuates rather than corrects the Section Two violation we found.”
In response to Republican officials’ open defiance of a court order the court wrote:
We are disturbed by the evidence that the State delayed remedial proceedings but ultimately did not even nurture the ambition to provide the required remedy. And we are struck by the extraordinary circumstance we face. We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district.
The opinion concluded: “The law requires the creation of an additional district that affords Black Alabamians, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The 2023 Plan plainly fails to do so.”
However, even after this complete rebuke of Republicans’ failed plan, they continued to fight.
Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen (R) asked the lower court to pause its own ruling, but the court declined after finding that Allen “offers no reason, let alone a compelling one, why Alabamians should have to wait that long to vote under a lawful congressional districting map.” Despite this, Allen made a similar plea to the Supreme Court — again.
In mid-September, Allen shamelessly asked the Supreme Court to allow voters to vote under yet another unfair map for the 2024 election, opining that the “State of Alabama has been maligned as engaging in ‘open rebellion.’”
Finally, on Sept. 26, the Supreme Court rejected Republicans’ last ditch effort to force voters to vote under unfair maps in 2024.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) released a truly incoherent statement that reads: “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.”