Alabama House OKs new congressional, legislative districts. Court challenge expected

Published 5:29 am Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives on Monday advanced new lines for legislative and congressional districts with the expectation that the maps will almost certainly face a court challenge.

Lawmakers voted 65-38 to approve the congressional district lines and 68-35 to approve House of Representatives district lines. Ten or fewer Republicans joined with Democrats to oppose the new boundary lines. Both plans now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Republican Rep. Chris Pringle, the co-chairman of the redistricting committee, said the approved maps comply with the Voting Rights Act and recent court rulings. “Reapportionment is always taken to court. Everything we did will be scrutinized. I think we did a good job of applying the law and the guidelines equitably,” Pringle said.

Democrats, who voted against the maps, argued the process was rushed and that the maps, which are expected to maintain GOP dominance in the Alabama Legislature and congressional delegation unnecessarily split counties and do not reflect the state’s growing diversity.

“We look forward to fighting this out in court and figuring out how we can get to a process that is going to work for the people of Alabama,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said.

Lawmakers must draw new districts every 10 years after new census numbers are released, adjusting lines to keep the population of each district as equal as possible.

Some Democrats have argued that Alabama, whose population is about 26% Black, should have a second congressional district with a significant African American or minority population.

The seven-member delegation has for decades included a single African American, elected from the only district with a majority Black population. The district is now represented by Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.
The Republican-supported plan keeps Sewell’s District 7 with a population that is about 55% Black, while the other six districts are overwhelmingly white.

One rejected proposal would have created a second district with a Black population of about 36%.

“It would have given us an influence district or a purple district. It would have been really nice to have a not just Democrat-Republican district so gerrymandered, but have something that was a competitive district,” said Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman of Pleasant Grove.

Several lawmakers in both parties argued that the process had been rushed.

“It’s discouraging to me because we’re hurrying. We really don’t have the adequate, accurate information to make the kind of momentous decisions that we’re being asked to make,” said Republican Rep. Mike Holmes of Wetumpka.

Democratic Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa noted lawmakers passed a substitute legislative plan that lawmakers only saw today and that voters didn’t see at all.

Pringle said lawmakers are under a time crunch to get the maps ready in time for next year’s elections after receiving their census data late.

The GOP-controlled Legislature in 2017 had to redraw legislative maps under court order to fix racial gerrymandering in 12 districts. The ruling came after Black lawmakers filed a lawsuit challenging the maps as “stacking and packing” Black voters into designated districts to make neighboring districts whiter and more likely to elect conservative Republicans.

Pringle said in drawing the lines this year that they did so without looking at race, based on the existing map and population changes. He said they later calculated the racial composition of districts.

The Alabama Senate advanced new lines for state Senate and state school board districts.

State senators voted 25-7 for new state Senate lines and 24-4 for new Board of Education lines. Those bills now move to the Alabama House of Representatives.