Supreme Court to hear Ala. redistricting challenge
Sam Hananel Associated Press
POSTED: 06/02/2014 10:33:38 AM MDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Monday it will consider a challenge from Alabama Democrats who say a Republican-drawn legislative map intentionally packs black Democrats into a few voting districts, giving them too little influence in the Legislature and shutting out white Democrats in the process.
The justices agreed to hear a pair of appeals from the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and other Democratic lawmakers who contend the new map created in 2012 illegally limits black voting strength and makes it harder to elect white Democrats outside the majority-black districts.
A panel of three federal judges had ruled 2-1 last year that the new districts were not discriminatory and did not violate the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.
Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference, said the Republican-designed districts were contrived to reduce the number of black voters in majority white districts.
"They were doing their level best to wipe out white Democrats," he said. "They were trying their best to have a Legislature of white Republicans and black Democrats, and then they could ignore the black Democrats."
The Legislature had to redraw political boundaries to reflect population shifts in the 2010 Census. Alabama Republican Attorney General Luther Strange has said the new legislative districts are consistent with federal law.
Republican Alabama state Sen. Gerald Dial, co-chairman of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, said the plan cleared the Justice Department and a three-judge panel without any problems, and he was surprised by the Supreme Court agreeing to review it.
"It's a total shock to me because we met all the guidelines that were in place at the time. But this is part of the process," he said.
Democrats contend that despite population shifts, the new map contains the same number of districts with majority black populations that were in a legislative redistricting plan produced a decade ago, when Democrats still controlled the Legislature. The plan has eight of the 35 Senate districts and 28 of the 105 House districts with a majority of black residents.
The three-judge panel rejected the claim about diluting black voter strength. In the majority decision, U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor wrote that "the overwhelming evidence in the record suggests that black voters will have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process the same as everyone else." He was joined by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins.
The lone black judge on the panel, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, dissented.