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Black voters, organizations sue Jefferson County for racial gerrymandering

Alabama continues to be a hotbed for redistricting litigation, most notably the U.S. Supreme Court Case Merrill v. Milligan.

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On Friday, April 7, a lawsuit was filed against the Jefferson County Commission accusing the department of racial gerrymandering, specifically packing, during the redistricting process in 2021. 

The plaintiffs include individual voter Cara McClure, Greater Birmingham Ministries on behalf of its members, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Metro-Birmingham Branch of the NAACP on behalf of their members.

Legal Defense Fund assistant counsel Kathryn Sadasivan, stated that redistricting is important to addressing the needs of communities and stripping voters of their power infringes on the Constitution. 

“Not only did the Commission rush through a process that will determine the county’s districts for the next decade, but they manipulated the districts to prevent Black, Latinx, and other voters from realizing their fair share of political power,” said Sadasivan. “This is a clear violation of the Constitution.”

Jefferson County consists of five districts with Districts 1 and 2 being majority Black while 3,4, and 5 are majority white. 

The lawsuit claims that the Commission’s packing of Black voters into Districts 1 and 2 resulted in Black-voting age populations of well over 60 percent in each district. This occurred despite population loss in both districts and 2020 census data depicting BVAP in Jefferson County to be at 41.46%. 

“I believe Jefferson County should go back to the drawing board on its redistricting process to ensure a more accurate representation of all communities,” said McClure. “One that reflects the diversity and needs of Jefferson County.”

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The lawsuit also references a 1985 federal consent decree that established two majority-Black districts in Jefferson County and the current structure of 5 commissioners. This happened due to Black officials never being elected to the county commission from 1931-1985. 

Since the implementation of the consent decree Districts 1 and 2 have only elected Black officials. And no Black candidates have ever been elected in Districts 3, 4, and 5. 

Described in the lawsuit is the historical pattern of discrimination that has transpired in Jefferson County. Examples cited include a federal court in 2013 granting a motion by a Black plaintiff class to hold the Commission in contempt due to the Commission violating a 30 year old consent decree. 

Alabama continues to be a hotbed for redistricting litigation, most notably the U.S. Supreme Court Case Merrill v. Milligan. This case has significant implications as it alleges that the state of Alabama violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and intentionally diluted Black voting power by cracking the only majority-Black Congressional voting district. 

“It is shameful that our elected officials refuse to abide by the Constitution and are effectively disenfranchising Black voters to prevent us from having a say in our political discourse,” said Alabama NAACP President Bernard Simelton. “By denying Black voters fair representation, we are denied resources that have a direct effect on our quality of life. We will continue to hold the Commission accountable until this map is fair, and our communities are heard.”

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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