Case aims to return Alabama to its traditional redistricting principle and provide fair representation of all Alabamians
BIRMINGHAM, AL. – A federal lawsuit filed this week in an Alabama federal court claims that the state’s current Congressional redistricting plan, enacted in 2011, is malapportioned and racially gerrymandered, packing black voters in a single majority-black Congressional district and minimizing their influence in five majority-white districts. The suit seeks action from the Alabama Legislature to enact a new plan with 2020 census data that remedies the existing unconstitutional gerrymandering by restoring Alabama’s traditional redistricting principle of drawing Congressional districts with whole counties.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that, under the U.S. Constitution, any racial gerrymandering must be based on a compelling state interest and will be strictly scrutinized by the courts,” said Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and a partner at DiCello Levitt Gutzler. “It is high time Alabama restored the integrity of county boundaries, which will advance the representation of black citizens and provide fair representation of all Alabamians.”
Alabama’s Congressional district boundaries have a long and complex history. Before the Supreme Court announced the one person, one vote rule in 1964, Alabama split no counties. From 1964 to 1980, only Jefferson County was split because its population was too large for a single district, and in 1981, Alabama split Jefferson and St. Clair Counties. Since 1982, Alabama’s Congressional map consists of gerrymandered districts that split across seven counties and divide Montgomery County among three congressional districts. District 7 not only has sufficient minorities to have a minority representative from Alabama intended to comply with the Voting Rights Act, but it also packs as many minorities as possible, thereby weakening minorities’ voting influence throughout the state.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that preserving county boundaries can justify minor population deviations among districts. The complaint includes an example of how Alabama’s Congressional districts can be redrawn constitutionally without splitting a single county, while maintaining the cores of existing districts. This proposed Alabama Whole County Map has a maximum population deviation of only 2.46% – which is the lowest possible population deviation based on whole county districts – and eliminates the racial gerrymander. It also complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“The Alabama Legislature has a constitutional duty to eliminate existing racial gerrymandering once and for all,” said Myron Penn, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and attorney at Penn & Seaborn, LLC. “With the recent release of the 2020 census data, now is the time to ensure that all citizens not only have the right to vote, but also that the Congressional district boundaries are reapportioned to ensure that all Alabamians are represented fairly and equitably.”
“Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Alabama has struggled with voting discrimination for many decades,” said James Blacksher, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “The proposed Alabama Whole County Map makes it easy for citizens to know which Congressional district they live in and creates two districts that provide black citizens an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Redistricting in Alabama using the Whole County Map is the best path forward for equal voting rights in Alabama.”
The case is Bobby Singleton, Rodger Smitherman, Eddie Billingsley, Leonette W. Slay, Darryl Andrews, and Andrew Walker vs. John H. Merrill, in his official capacity as Alabama Secretary of State, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division. Additional co-counsels for the plaintiffs are J.S. “Chris” Christie of Dentons Sirote PC and Joe Ramon Whatley, Jr. of Whatley Kallas, LLP. A copy of the complaint is available upon request and the attorneys are available for media interviews.
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