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Lawsuit: Alabama congressional map ‘racially gerrymandered’

September 28, 2021 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A lawsuit filed Tuesday as lawmakers get set to draw Alabama’s new congressional map is challenging the state’s current congressional districts, saying they are “racially gerrymandered” and limit Black voters’ influence in all but one congressional district.

Alabama currently has one majority-minority district represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democrat and only Black member of Alabama’s congressional district. The lawsuit argues Alabama should have a congressional map that would “afford African Americans an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in at least two districts.”

The lawsuit by two state senators and four voters was filed ahead of an expected special session on redistricting in which lawmakers will draw new congressional districts based on the latest U.S. Census numbers. No date has been set so far for such a session.

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“Alabama’s current Congressional redistricting plan, enacted in 2011 is malapportioned and racially gerrymandered, packing black voters in a single majority-black Congressional district,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit argues that legislators packed as “many minorities as possible” into the congressional district that stretches from Birmingham through west Alabama and into Montgomery — “thereby weakening minorities’ voting influence throughout the state.”

The suit seeks to avoid splitting counties and return to the “redistricting principle of drawing its Congressional districts with whole counties.”

“By returning to Alabama’s traditional redistricting principle of aggregating whole counties, Alabama can remedy the existing racial gerrymander, restore a measure of rationality and fairness to Alabama’s Congressional redistricting process, and afford African Americans an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in at least two districts,” the lawsuit states.

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, Sen. Bobby Singleton and four voters filed the lawsuit. Secretary of State John Merrill is the defendant in the lawsuit because of his position.

“We just want to make sure there is fair representation, equal representation,” Singleton said in a telephone interview.

While the population of Alabama is 25% Black— and elected bodies such as the Legislature mirror that representation— the congressional delegation is 14% Black.

Merrill said Tuesday that he had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on pending litigation.

Alabama showed an increase in racial and ethnic diversity in the new Census numbers. The percentage of people who identify as white dropped while the state saw an increase in the Hispanic population and a doubling of the percentage of people who identify as multiracial.

Whites continue to be the largest racial group in Alabama, but the percentage of people in Alabama who identify as white shrunk from 68.5% in 2010 to 64.1% in 2020. There was the slightest decrease in percentage of people who identify as Black falling from 26% to 25.6.

Alabama officials earlier this year were relieved to learn that the state would maintain the seven congressional districts, instead of dropping to six.