On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a five to four ruling stating that the federal courts do not have a role in preventing state Legislatures from gerrymandering for partisan political purposes.
State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Redistricting, which will be charged with redistricting the state following the 2020 Census. The Alabama Political Reporter asked McClendon how this decision affect the state of Alabama heading into the decennial census.
“We’ve been anxiously awaiting their decision,” McClendon said. “Their ruling today is consistent with rulings in similar cases in the past. They said the framers of the constitution left political policies, particularly redistricting partisan issues, in the hands of the state and made it clear the U.S. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction.”
“This is the key issue they had to consider, ‘It is not even clear what fairness looks like in this context. It may mean achieving a greater number of competitive districts by undoing packing and cracking so that supporters of the disadvantaged party have a better shot at electing their preferred candidates. But it could mean engaging in cracking and packing to ensure each party its ‘appropriate’ share of ‘safe’ seats,” McClendon said.
“As Senate chairman of redistricting, I am pleased to have a clear ruling and receiving it in a timely manner,” McClendon said. “We have much work ahead of us, and their decision today on this issue will allow us to proceed. We will be receiving census data in early spring of 2021, and this court decision resolves many questions.”
The majority decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. He was joined in the ruling by Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Roberts wrote. “Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”
“Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” Roberts wrote. “But the fact that such gerrymandering is incompatible with democratic principles does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary.”
In North Carolina, Democrats said their Congressional Districts had been gerrymandered by the republican-controlled state Legislature. In Maryland, Republicans said their districts had been gerrymandered by a democratic state Legislature to minimize their representation. The lower federal courts agreed. This ruling overturns those lower court rulings in favor of the power of the state Legislatures.
Former President Barack Obama Supreme Court appointed Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent for the court.
“The gerrymanders here — and others like them — violated the constitutional rights of many hundreds of thousands of American citizens,” Kagan wrote. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”
The ruling leaves in place the federal court’s role in maintaining racial fairness. Alabama presently has 28 House Districts, eight Senate Districts, two school board districts and a congressional district that are majority minority. Presently, all of those districts are held by Democrats. Republicans hold everything else.
McClendon and the Joint Committee on Redistricting will be tasked with redistricting those bodies again following the 2020 census and before the 2022 election. Those redistricting plans will have to be approved by the state Legislature, where Republicans have supermajorities in both houses.
In the last five decennial reapportionments and redistrictings, the committee also had to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, but the landmark Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision ruled that the pre-clearance section of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 is no longer relevant or enforceable; thus the Legislature does not have to seek pre-clearance on this next redistricting.
Thursday’s decision gives the committee guidance as they move forward with their work.
The decision appears to be a net win politically for Republicans who control both the governorship and the Legislature in 22 states, including Alabama. Democrats control 14.
Original reporting by Fox News and The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes contributed to this report.
Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31
The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen.
Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.
Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.
And “other bills deemed necessary.”
The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day.
“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads.
The State Senate’s plan:
“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.
The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.
The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.
Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.
- Gavel In
- Pledge and Prayer
- Roll Call
- Excuse all Senators
- Points of Personal Privilege
- President Pro Tem Marsh
- Majority Leader Reed
- Minority Leader Singleton
- Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.
“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”
Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.
A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.
“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.
Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.
“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.
The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.
This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.
A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.
$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund
Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.
As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.
Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.
Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.
“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.
Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.
Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most
There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most.
That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.”
To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable.
Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt.
“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness.
“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”
Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most.
If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs.
One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.
Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus
The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.
A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting.
The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.
The full statement reads:
“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.
House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.
The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.
Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day.
Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”
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