Federal court panel overturns Alabama’s revised congressional redistricting plan

A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama ruled on Sept. 5 that the revised congressional district boundaries that the Alabama legislature enacted on July 21, 2023, were not in accordance with the Voting Rights Act. The state adopted the revised congressional map after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2023 that the congressional redistricting plan adopted on Nov. 4, 2021, violated the Voting Rights Act and must be redrawn to include a second majority-black district.

The federal district court’s order said, “this Court concluded that the 2023 Plan did not remedy the likely Section 2 violation found by this Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court. We, therefore, preliminarily enjoined Secretary Allen from using the 2023 Plan in Alabama’s upcoming 2024 congressional elections.” The federal district court ordered its Special Master to submit three proposed remedial plans with the court by Sept. 25 that comply with the Voting Rights Act and “traditional redistricting principles to the extent reasonably practicable.”

Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen’s office said it would appeal the federal court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. A spokesperson for Allen issued a statement which said, “While we are disappointed in today’s decision, we strongly believe that the legislature’s map complies with the Voting Rights Act and the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. We intend to promptly seek review from the Supreme Court to ensure that the State can use its lawful congressional districts in 2024 and beyond.”

The Alabama Reflector’s Alander Rocha and Jemma Stephenson wrote that the congressional map the state enacted in 2023 “would lower the percentage of Alabama’s current majority-Black district and create a district in southeast Alabama that would be nearly 40% Black.”

The panel’s three judges are Senior Justice Stanley Marcus of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and District Court Justices Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer. Marcus was first appointed to a federal district court judgeship by President Ronald Reagan (R) in 1985 and to the 11th Circuit by President Bill Clinton (D) in 1997. Manasco and Moorer were appointed as federal judges by President Donald Trump (R) in 2020 and 2018, respectively.

On June 8, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, holding that the plaintiffs showed a reasonable likelihood of success concerning their claim that Alabama’s redistricting map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In the court’s majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The extensive record in these cases supports the District Court’s conclusion that plaintiffs’ §2 claim was likely to succeed under GinglesGingles described the “essence of a §2 claim” as when “a certain electoral law, practice, or structure interacts with social and historical conditions to cause an inequality in the opportunities enjoyed by black and white voters.” That occurs where an “electoral structure operates to minimize or cancel out” minority voters’ “ability to elect their preferred candidates.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a federal law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. The act was passed in 1965 with the intent of enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The act contains provisions that prohibit state and local governments from passing voting laws that result in discrimination against a racial group, such as enacting literacy tests and other devices that have historically been used to disenfranchise racial minorities.

Additional reading:

Allen v. Milligan

United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama