Majority Republican lawmakers have not released their ideas for redrawing Alabama’s congressional districts to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, leading Democrats on Thursday to accuse GOP lawmakers of shutting them, and the public, out of the process ahead of next week’s special session on redistricting.
Alabama lawmakers begin the special session Monday to approve a redistricting plan that is being developed by Republicans but hasn’t been presented.
“There hasn’t been any public scrutiny on it and we’re just going to be handed that map at some point over the weekend, maybe even Monday, and say here, ‘Vote on it,’” Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, said after a meeting of the legislature’s redistricting committee.
England said he understands that the GOP majority will determine what passes, but said that “something with as much jeopardy attached to it as redrawing the congressional map to satisfy a Supreme Court decision” should be done “in the light of day.”
A three-judge panel gave Alabama until July 21 to adopt a new congressional map after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its ruling that the state likely violated the Voting Rights Act with its current plan that has only one congressional district with a substantial number of Black voters.
The Alabama Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment held a meeting Thursday to hear public comments and approve guidelines. House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle, who serves as co-chairman of the committee, said it will meet Monday to vote on the proposed map.
While Democrats accused Republicans of keeping the process shrouded in secrecy, Pringle said they are proceeding as quickly as possible. He said the proposed map will be sent to committee members as soon as possible before the Monday meeting.
“We are working on that as fast as we can,” Pringle said.
Alabama now has only one majority-Black district out of seven in a state where more than one in four residents are Black. The three-judge panel said in its 2022 ruling that Alabama should have “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
Republicans have the numbers to approve a plan without support from Democratic lawmakers. However, the plan must go back before the three-judge panel. GOP lawmakers risk the court stepping in and drawing its own plan if lawmakers stray too far from the court’s wishes.
The group of Black voters that won the Supreme Court case urged committee members Thursday to adopt their proposed map. It would adjust the state’s 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Republican Rep. Barry Moore, to create what is described as an “opportunity” district because it would give Black voters, now making up 50% of the voting-age population, a greater opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. The proposed district would encompass some Black Belt counties and parts of Mobile County.
Some of the plaintiffs described how they joined the case after seeing their communities ignored by the white Republicans who represent their areas.
“I want my community to have a seat at that table,” said Shalela Dowdy of Mobile.
Some Democrats on the legislative committee disagreed on how to reconfigure the map.
Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said she will introduce the plaintiffs’ map in next week’s session because it “complies with the court’s instruction.”
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, favored a rival proposal that would alter the 6th Congressional District, now represented by Republican Rep. Gary Palmer, so it includes all of Jefferson County, which is home to Birmingham.
Smitherman argued that a Democrat would have a good opportunity to be elected in the racially diverse district. “Jefferson County is the melting pot,” he said.