A voter wearing a protective mask enters a polling location in Opelika, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.
Elijah Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The GOP-controlled Legislature had called a special session to redraw an earlier map after the Supreme Court reaffirmed a federal court order to include two districts where Black voters make up voting-age majorities, “or something quite close to it.” But on Friday, state Republicans approved a new map with just one majority-Black seat and a second district that is approximately 40% Black.
The map was completed Friday afternoon — hours before the court-ordered deadline for the Legislature to draw up new boundaries — as a compromise between the House and Senate versions.
Democrats slammed the map and its drafters, arguing that legislators ignored a court order and that the map continued the racist history of voter suppression.
“There was never any intent in this building to comply with their court order,” said state Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa. “There was never any intent in this building to comply with the Voting Rights Act.”
England and other Democrats argued the map was designed to bring another challenge to the Voting Rights Act.
“I’m ashamed of what we did here this week,” said state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, a Democrat from Birmingham. “We’ve chosen to outright, blatantly disobey the law and to further attempt and vote to bury the Voting Rights Act.”
The district lines are being closely watched by many in Washington, where redistricting battles playing out in the courts in Alabama, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and other states could decide control of Congress.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and much of the rest of Alabama’s congressional delegation had reached out to Republican legislators, according to Republican state House Speaker Nathan Ledbetter.
Alluding to Tuberville’s past as the football coach at Auburn University, spokesman Steven Stafford said in an email before the final vote: “Coach just wants the maps to be fair and for all Alabamians to be represented well. He trusts Alabama’s state legislators to get this right.”
McCarthy reached out to plan sponsors and is concerned about maintaining his House majority, Ledbetter said, while Tuberville called Thursday morning and said he was surprised the Supreme Court had ruled against the state, given the court’s conservative tilt.
“He was kind of surprised that we were in the situation,” Ledbetter said. “There are a lot of eyes on Alabama.”
McCarthy confirmed to NBC News that he talked to “a few” Alabama legislators.
“I’d like to know where they’re going to go and whether they’re in the process of happening,” he said. “I know the Democrats are trying very hard to redraw New York. … I think people should be very fair in this process to be able to see what’s happening. I like to know what’s going to happen out there.”
Republicans have insisted the maps would give Black voters an opportunity to elect the representatives of their choice as required by the courts, but Democrats, voting rights experts and the groups that sued the original maps disagree.
Kareem Clayton, an Alabama native who is a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said his team looked at 15 recent elections to see how the proposed Senate and House drafts would perform.
They found that the candidate preferred by Black voters would win four times out of 15 under the House plan, while Black voters could elect their preferred candidate just once under the Senate plan. And that win was narrow, deriving from a remarkable upset: former Sen. Doug Jones’ historic upset over Roy Moore, a Republican accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers.
“The through line in both plans is obviously they’re prioritizing keeping the Gulf Coast together, the very thing the Supreme Court said wasn’t more important than delivering a serious, effective opportunity for African American voters,” he said.
The voting and civil rights groups that challenged the map as a violation of the Voting Rights Act promised to fight the new one as well.
Plaintiffs can submit objections in the coming weeks under the current court order, and the federal judges will consider them at an Aug. 14 hearing. The court can decide to hire an outside expert to redraw the maps if it agrees that the map is another racial gerrymander.
As the Legislature advanced two maps without a second Black-majority district, plaintiffs expressed outrage and shock.
Marina Jenkins, the executive director of the National Redistricting Foundation — one of the groups that supported some of the plaintiffs in the suit, Allen v. Milligan — slammed the maps in a statement.
“Alabama Republicans are intentionally drawing political retention maps at the expense of Black Alabamians — in defiance of the Supreme Court and the Alabama district court. It is a continuation of the state’s long, sordid history of disenfranchising Black voters,” she said, promising to challenge the maps in court.
NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said the plaintiffs were disappointed in Alabama’s responses to the court orders.
“This is exactly why the Voting Rights Act was first created — this sort of stubbornness of states,” he said in an interview. “Even when a court says that they’re violating federal law or the Constitution, they continue to fail to do the right thing. It’s troubling, but it’s part of a troubling history that has existed in America and Alabama for a long time.”
CORRECTION (July 21, 2023 8:43 a.m. ET): A headline and a previous version of this article on NBC misstated McCarthy’s title. He is the House speaker.