Court brings up Alabama Republicans’ racial redistricting map aimed at suppressing black votes

A line of people wait outside the federal courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama, on August 14, 2023, to watch a redistricting hearing. Federal judges said on Tuesday (September 5) they will draft new congressional lines in Alabama after lawmakers refused to create a second district in which black voters are at least close to forming a majority, as the court suggested. | Kim Chandler/AP

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Another victory in federal court as black voters vied to return a congressional map manipulated by a white Republican majority, this time in Alabama, shows that the Voting Rights Act still has some sway.

But the same court ruling, in the US District Court for North Alabama, also highlights what was lost when the US Supreme Court weakened the “advance authorization” section of the Voting Rights Act more than a decade ago.

That’s because, as the justices pointed out, a key Section 5 of the VRA, the federal “pre-authorization” imposition on voting changes in states with a history of discrimination, including Alabama, would have prevented the whole mess from happening in the first place. during its ban. maps in advance.

In a stinging unanimous decision, federal justices Stanley Marcus, Terry Moorer and Ana Manasco failed in the Republican-dominated legislature’s second attempt to redraw Alabama’s seven congressional districts. Alabama, which has a population of 27% black, has one district that is dominated by voters of color. Should be two.

But the legislature, which is overwhelmingly white Republicans, has now passed two maps, each containing just one majority and minority district. The most recent one set that district at 51% black and set a second at 40%, with the rest of the state’s black population distributed among others.

Alabama’s victory is the latest, and perhaps not the last, in a series of cases that use the weaker Section 2 of the VRA, which requires voters to prove that racial discrimination harms them, but after the fact. This is what happened in Alabama.

The Louisiana fight over creating a second congressional district, among six, where black Americans and other people of color would have enough clout to elect a congressman, is now active again. It was suspended while the Alabama case was heard in the higher courts. The Pelican State now has one majority-minority district, centered on New Orleans. Louisiana is one-third black.

Another case involving the eight counties of South Carolina is now before the US Supreme Court. The “Cradle of the Confederacy” includes only one black legislator, influential Democrat Jim Clyburn, among its six representatives. The state is made up of 26.3% blacks and 68.9% whites.

Computer-assisted redistricting, in particular the “cracking and packing” of black voters from white Republicans into congressional and legislative districts to reduce their voting power while maximizing that of whites, is one of the most insidious and effective methods of voter suppression, particularly but not exclusively in the South.

Other repressive moves include often “cleaning up” voting rolls, with black and brown voters targeted for removal, “poll watchers” who challenge voters’ rights on Election Day, misinformation, intimidation, outright lies about when and where they will vote, and closing polling stations. stations in minority neighborhoods from rural Texas to downtown Columbus, Ohio, and even made it a criminal offense to serve food and water to voters standing in long lines in the blazing sun.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that this latest ban, an infamous part of Georgia’s voter suppression law, was overturned in a federal district court there in mid-August. That court also overturned a rule of Georgia law that absentee ballots must put their date of birth on the voting envelope.

The angry Justices Moorer and Manasco, appointed by Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent in the Oval Office, and Marcus, a semi-retired judge appointed by Bill Clinton, said they would appoint a special master and cartographer to draw the lines of the new Alabama Territory by September 25. The state’s white right-wing state legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

The judges there had floated their first map as racially discriminatory, by a vote of 5-4. The Supreme Court ordered the legislature to try and try again, this time adhering to the Voting Rights Act. She tried again, but failed and refused to admit it. The judges made no criticisms of Alabama’s challenge.

“The Voting Rights Act does not provide support for black voters. “It only precludes them from retaining them in respect of what can be said to be a ‘fundamental political right’, because it is ‘a preserver of all rights’ – the right to vote,” the three justices wrote, citing the Court of Appeal’s rulings.

And that was one of their milder statements.

“We are not aware of any other case where a state legislature has responded — faced with a federal court order declaring its electoral plan illegally dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — with one that the state admits does not.” The judges wrote, “Don’t save that area.”

“The law requires the creation of an additional district that will provide blacks in Alabama, like everyone else, a fair and reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing. And the 2023 (redistricting) plan clearly fails to do that.”

The justices said black Alabama voters “would suffer irreparable harm if they were forced to vote in the 2024 congressional election based on a potentially illegal redistricting plan.” The justices said government inaction would hurt them all the way through 2026, at least.

“Courts routinely find restrictions on basic voting rights an irreparable harm. Particularly discriminatory voting measures are the kind of serious violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act for which the courts have granted immediate relief.

exclaimed the lawyer for blacks in Alabama, who has argued their case before the US Supreme Court before. So did her clients.

“For months, Alabama refused to enact a congressional map that complied with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, in open defiance of the federal court order and the clear instructions of the US Supreme Court,” said Abha Khanna, of Birmingham, Ala. , a civil rights advocate for voters.

Instead, Alabama passed another map that illegally dilutes the voting power of black citizens. Fortunately, a federal court rejected Alabama’s desperate and disappointing attempt to deny black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. We are confident that the private tutor and court-appointed cartographer will produce a remedial map of the majority-minority second district required by law. We will continue to fight for fair and legal maps in Alabama.”

“Our nation’s highest court has asked Alabama to draw up a map to fairly represent black voters, but the state has refused. Alabama publicly admits its intention to defy the law and the US Supreme Court. But we will not back down,” black Alabama voters who sued said in a joint statement.

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Mark Groenberg

(tags for translation)politics

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