Judges Order Alabama To Use Special Master’s Map After State Refused To Un-Gerrymander Its Own

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A panel of federal judges Thursday ordered Alabama to conduct its 2024 congressional elections under a map crafted by a special master, a necessity after state lawmakers refused to draw a court-ordered second Black opportunity district. 

It’ll likely mean the election of an additional Democratic congressperson in 2024. That reality helps illuminate why Republican state officials across multiple states are fighting tooth and nail to keep their biased maps, no matter what the courts tell them to do. 

The court took the responsibility of redrawing from the Alabama officials after they brazenly ignored the directives of both the federal panel and the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court knocked down its map as a Voting Rights Act violation in June, the case was kicked back to the federal panel, which expected the legislators to draw a new map with an additional Black majority district (or something “quite close to it”). Instead, the legislators defiantly turned in another map with only one Black majority district.  

Alabama officials appealed to the Supreme Court for help, asking the justices to uphold their new map —which had the same glaring deficiency as the one the justices had knocked down a few months prior. The officials were reportedly acting on rumors that Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the key swing vote for their defeat in June, was open to changing his mind. 

The Court did not comply, and swatted down the officials’ request. It seemed to take the wind out of their sails, as the Alabama Secretary of State then voluntarily dismissed his merits appeal to the high Court. 

In the meantime, the court-appointed special master produced three maps. The third, the favorite of the voting rights groups and individual voters, was the winner. It includes one district where the Black voting-age population is 51.9 percent, and another where it’s 48.7 percent. 

Alabama, unsurprisingly, objected to all three maps. 

“The Secretary and the Legislators object to all the Special Master’s recommended plans as racial gerrymanders, but they do not raise any specific objection to Remedial Plan 3,” the panel wrote in Thursday’s order. 

The judges, by now completely fed up with the state’s behavior, also took some space to rebut some of Alabama’s more hyperbolic arguments against the remedial maps. 

“There can be no genuine argument that meaningfully changing only two districts out of seven, and perfectly tracking county boundaries in nineteen of the twenty-one counties in those two districts, is a ‘disfigurement,’” they wrote. “Likewise, there can be no earnest argument that departing from the 2023 Plan in this way to remedy racially discriminatory vote dilution — while leaving 86.9 percent of Alabamians in precisely the same district they were in under the 2023 Plan — remotely approaches the abhorrent practice of racially segregating public schools for children.”

Shortly after the order, Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen said in a statement that the state won’t challenge it.

“The Office of the Secretary of State will facilitate the 2024 election cycle in accordance with the map the federal court has forced upon Alabama and ordered us to use,” he said.

“It did not have to be this way,” the judges wrote as they signed off on the special master map. “And it would not have been this way if the Legislature had created a second opportunity district or majority-minority district. They did not do so in 2021, and as the State conceded at the remedial hearing, they failed again to do so in 2023.”

Read the order here:

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