The ink was barely dry on the legislation redrawing Alabama’s congressional districts before a federal lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon.
Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney and founder of Democracy Docket, announced on social media that his firm had filed suit against the state — and specifically against Secretary of State John Merrill — on behalf of several Black voters. The lawsuit claims the new maps “intentionally dilutes the voting strength of Black Alabamians by creating only one majority-Black voting district” in the state.
Elias, whose firm also has lawsuits pending in several other states over voting rights issues, hinted on social media for several days that Alabama would be next in line for a lawsuit if it passed the congressional maps that were being debated. Lawmakers passed those maps on Wednesday, and Gov. Kay Ivey announced midday Thursday that she had signed them.
The primary argument is not new, nor is it particularly in question — Alabama lawmakers have, without question, “packed” Black voters into the 7th Congressional District.
The new maps pull small areas of certain cities into the 7th Congressional District, removing Black voters from other districts and packing as many as possible into the district represented by Congresswoman Terri Sewell, a Democrat.
For example, the majority of Montgomery County falls into the 2nd Congressional District, which is represented currently by Republican Congressman Barry Moore. However, a portion of west Montgomery, which is heavily populated and almost entirely Black, is carved out and placed in the 7th Congressional District.
The question, of course, is whether the obvious gerrymandering rises to the level of racial discrimination.
Republicans argue that by “packing” Black voters into the 7th Congressional District, they are essentially upholding one of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act — to ensure a majority-Black voting district in the state.
But Democrats, and others, say the packing has gone too far and is now obviously disenfranchising voters and providing the Republicans with a huge advantage in a state that, while very red, still sees Democrats routinely achieve 40 percent of the vote in statewide races. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the state’s nearly 26 percent Black population is underrepresented by a map with a single majority-minority district in seven districts.