By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) announced that a three judge federal court panel has ruled on a 2-1 decision that the new districts for the Alabama House and Senate did not violate federal law.
Attorney General Strange said, “I am committed to protecting every citizen’s right to vote for equal representation in state government. I have believed from the beginning of this process that Alabama complied with all legal and constitutional requirements in adopting the new district lines, and I am pleased that the court agreed with our position that the new legislative districts are consistent with federal law.”
The Joint Chairmen of the Committee on Redistricting were Senator Gerald Dial (R) from Lineville and Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville.
Chairman Jim McClendon told The Alabama Political Reporter on Tuesday, “Alabama State Sen. Dial & I along with the 22 member Committee and the Speaker and Pro-Tem proposed a plan that got DOJ preclearance in record time, withstood Federal judicial review, and created fair districts that accurately reflect the will of the voters in Alabama. I am proud to have had a roll in the process and am pleased both candidates and voters have this matter settled in ample time for the 2014 election.”
The Attorney General’s Office presented evidence and legal arguments to a panel of three federal judges over several days in August. On Friday, the court issued a 173-page order and opinion today as the result of that trial.
In 2011, the Alabama Legislature adopted new districts to account for population shifts reflected in the 2010 census. Article One, Section 2 of the United States Constitution calls for a national census every ten years:
“Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
The Census is then used for redistricting Congress, the legislature, and state school board. The actual redistricting is performed by each individual state based on the numbers in the most recent Census. In Alabama the Permanent Committee on Redistricting is assigned the responsibility of performing this Constitutional role. The Permanent Committee on Redistricting is composed of nine Senate Republicans, two Senate Democrats, seven House Republicans, and four House Democrats. The distribution between the two political parties is based on their representation in their respective houses. After the election of 2010, the Republican Party won control of both the Alabama House and Senate. The goal of the Committee is to create fair districts; but redistricting is a political process. The Joint Chairmen of the Committee on Redistricting were Sen. Gerald Dial (R) from Lineville and Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 southern states were forced to submit their redistricting plans to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance. The U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled that that clause is antiquated and no longer necessary, but the 2012 redistricting plan was approved by President Obama’s U.S. Justice Department prior to that ruling.
After the Federal Department of Justice pre-cleared the new districts, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, the Alabama Democratic Conference, and state Representative Demtrius Newton (D) sued the state of Alabama under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, claiming that the new districts were racially discriminatory. Rep. Newton’s district was merged into two neighboring districts under the plan. Rep. Newton passed away on September 11, 2013.
AG Strange said, “This was a complex case that required skilled and talented legal counsel, and it has been a top priority for my office. I am proud of the evidence we presented and grateful for the attorneys who helped achieve this successful result.” Strange Deputy Attorney General Jack Park and Assistant Attorneys General Jim Davis and Misty Messick for their work on the case.
A special three-judge panel heard evidence in the case over several days of trial. The panel concluded 2-to-1 that the new districts are not discriminatory and do not violate the Voting Rights Act or the United States Constitution.
If no higher court rules against the redistricting plan, then those districts will be used as the districts for the 2014 primaries which are scheduled for June 3.