By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–Several groups are suing the State of Alabama, arguing that the new legislative districts are discriminatory against black voters. The three-judge panel began hearing the case on Thursday, which is expected to last four to five days.
The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Association of Black County Officials are among the groups suing over the new district lines, which were drawn following the 2010 census and subsequently approved by the Alabama legislature. The new districts are scheduled to go into effect for the 2014 elections.
“The lawsuit asks the federal court to declare these two plans unconstitutional and order the Legislature to start over,” James Blacksher, a lawyer representing plaintiffs, said.
The suit claims that the districts dilute minority voters, violate “one person, one vote,” and split counties among districts, even when it is unnecessary.
The plaintiffs accuse the new districts of “stacking and packing,” two well-known tactics to dilute minority votes. By “stacking” votes, you place a small percentage of a minority into a majority-white district so their votes have less influence on an election. “Packing” voters, on the other hand, is making districts almost entirely of minority voters so that they are limited in the number of districts they can influence.
According to Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), the court has rejected two of the three claims: the claim that the districts violate “one person, one vote” and the claim that the districts have been gerrymandered for partisan benefit.
The third claim says that the districts are a violation of section two of the Voting Rights Act, which was not affected by the recent Supreme Court decisions.
“Where blacks made a difference in some of these majority (white) districts, because of the packing, now we don’t make the difference in those districts anymore,” Singleton, chairman of the Black Caucus, toldAL.com.
Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville) chaired the House redistricting committee alongside Senator Gerald Diel (R-Lineville).
According to AL.com, Dial testified that his only goals going into the redistricting process were to prevent incumbents from facing each other, to avoid reducing the percentage of minorities in majority black districts, and to protect communities of interest.
McClendon has denied the claims of discrimination, saying that the districts are more fair than those drawn last because the populations are more evenly distributed among the districts.
“When you have someone that represents a lot of people and someone that represents significantly fewer people, those persons in the highly populated districts find their influence diluted,” McClendon said.
“Sadly they were more concerned with segregating the parties and drawing plans that are racially gerrymandered instead of drawing constitutional plans,” Singleton said.
Representative Demetrius Newton (D-Birmingham) has filed a separate lawsuit, which has been lumped in with the other case. Newton’s claim concerned moving District 53, his district, from Jefferson to Madison County. Similarly, the new plans moved District 73, represented by Representative Joe Hubbard (D-Montgomery), to Shelby County, where it will likely become a Republican district.
This effectively put incumbent Democrats against one another: Newton against Representative Juandalynn Givan and Hubbard against Representative John Knight.
In the Senate, the districts were not moved across the state, but were drawn in a way that will make it more difficult for Democrats to hold several seats in 2014, including those held by Senator Marc Keahey (D-Grove Hill) and Senator Tammy Irons (D-Florence).
The three-judge panel will hear the case over the next few days and will decide on the case following those hearings.