HomeLearning CenterAlabama’s Congressional Map Struck Down as Discriminatory — Again

Alabama’s Congressional Map Struck Down as Discriminatory — Again

Originally published by Michael Li for Brennan Center for Justice

Redistricting often has twists and turns but rarely ones as wild as those that have played out in dramatic fashion over the course of the summer in Alabama. 

The Alabama saga begins in early 2022, when a federal district court struck down the state’s congressional map, ruling that the district lines adopted by lawmakers based on the 2020 census ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act.

The voided map severely fractured Black voters among multiple districts. As a result, Black Alabamians, who have grown to now make up almost 30 percent of the population, could elect their preferred candidates in only one of seven of the state’s congressional districts.

In each of the state’s other six districts, the Black population, no matter how hard it tried, was simply too small to overcome the hard-edged reality of Alabama’s starkly racially polarized politics. Six decades after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, an enduring fact of Alabama politics is that white and Black voters still overwhelmingly support different candidates up and down the ballot, especially when a contest includes a Black candidate. This polarization of voting along racial lines, which is most extreme in rural regions like the state’s Black Belt, makes it easy to lock Black voters out of power depending on how district boundaries are drawn, whether inadvertently or intentionally.

To fix the map’s illegal dilution of Black political influence, the three-judge panel ordered Alabama to create a second congressional district “in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

Alabama appealed to the Supreme Court, which blocked the decision from going into effect for the 2022 election. But in June, after arguments in the case, Chief Justice John Roberts handed down a 5–4 opinion not only upholding the trial court’s ruling in full but robustly reaffirming the nearly 40-year-old framework for deciding similar cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The directive to Alabama was unambiguous: Create a second congressional district where Black voters have a fair shot at electoral success. But what happened next was head spinning.

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