WASHINGTON, D.C. — This evening, a federal court in Alabama handed down a decision that blocks the state’s newly enacted congressional map from being used in future elections. The decision stems from three cases — Singleton v. Merrill, Caster v. Merrill and Milligan v. Merrill — that challenge Alabama’s enacted congressional map on the basis of race, though on different grounds. The Singleton plaintiffs argue that the enacted map is a racial gerrymander that violates the 14th Amendment because race was used as the predominant factor in drawing lines without a compelling reason; the Caster plaintiffs argue that the enacted map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because a second majority-Black district should have been drawn; and the Milligan plaintiffs bring both claims. After a seven-day hearing was held on multiple preliminary injunction motions, the court granted a preliminary injunction today and ordered that the Caster and Milligan plaintiffs have shown that the enacted congressional districts are likely to violate the VRA, blocked the enacted map and ordered the Legislature to draw a new map that includes a second majority-Black district. The candidate filing deadline, originally scheduled for Jan. 28, has been delayed by 14 days to allow the Legislature to draw new districts.
In its lengthy opinion addressing all three cases, the court outlines how the Caster and Milligan plaintiffs are “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 a preliminary injunction blocking the use of the enacted map is warranted. On the VRA claims, the court agreed that Black voters in Alabama are “sufficiently large” to constitute a voting-age majority in a second congressional district, rejecting the defendants’ arguments that that court should count only those who identify as “single race Black” on the census in calculating Black voting age population. Second, the court found that Black Alabamians are “geographically compact” to form a majority in a second congressional district, noting that the enacted plan splits the Black Belt region into four districts to “pack” and “crack” Black voters. Third, the court held that voting in Alabama is “intensely racially polarized,” meaning that white voters often vote as a bloc to overcome Black voters. Finally, the court held that, given Alabama’s past and present racial discrimination, “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.” Due to all of these reasons, the court struck down the enacted map and ordered the creation of a second majority-Black district out of seven in the state. Given that the court reached a conclusion on the VRA claims, it declined to decide the constitutional claims raised by the Singleton and Milligan plaintiffs.