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Black voting power gets boost in Alabama as new US House districts chosen by federal judges | AP News

Black voting power gets boost in Alabama as new US House districts chosen by federal judges | AP News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Federal judges on Thursday selected new congressional lines for Alabama to give the Deep South state a second district where Black voters comprise a substantial portion of the electorate.

The judges stepped in to pick a new congressional map after ruling that one drawn by Alabama illegally diluted the voting power of Black residents, and that Republican lawmakers failed to fix the Voting Rights Act violation when they adopted new lines this summer.

It sets the stage for potentially flipping one U.S. House of Representatives seat from Republican to Democratic control and for the state to have second Black Congressional representative for the first time.

“It’s a historic day for Alabama. It will be the first time in which Black voters will have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in two congressional districts,” said Deuel Ross, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who represented plaintiffs in the case.

Black voters in 2021 filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s existing plan as an illegal racial gerrymander. The Supreme Court in June upheld the three-judge panel’s finding that Alabama’s prior map — with one majority-Black district out of seven in a state that is 27% Black — likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel said the state should have two districts where Black voters are the majority or close to it.

The panel selected one of three plans proposed by a court-appointed expert that alters the bounds of Congressional District 2, now represented by Republican Rep. Barry Moore, who is white. The southeast Alabama district will stretch westward across the state. Black residents will go from comprising less than one-third of the district’s voting-age population to nearly 50%.

“We’re glad to see that process result in a federal court selecting a map that allows all, all the people of Alabama to have their voices heard,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

The court-ordered lines in Alabama come as redistricting cases are pending in Louisiana, Georgia and elsewhere. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said other states should view the Alabama decision as an example of “basic fairness” and a “warning that denying equal representation to Black voters, violating the Voting Rights Act, and defying federal court orders is a direct tie to an odious past and will no longer be tolerated.”

The Alabama Republican Party in a statement said they are disappointed in the decision. The state GOP said the court selected a map that is the most likely of the three proposals to result in a Democratic candidate being elected, instead of the proposed plan with the highest minority population.

“We believe Alabama’s Congressional Districts should represent the communities of our state, and not be based on the liberal Democrat agenda or the color of people’s skin,” the Alabama Republican Party said in a statement.

The judges said the new map must be used in upcoming elections, noting Alabama residents in 2022 voted under a map they had ruled illegal after the Supreme Court put their order on hold to hear the state’s appeal.

Plaintiffs in the case on Thursday celebrated the victory that came after a winding two-year court path.

“It’s really hard to underscore just how accustomed people are to being ignored... It’s the beginning of another chapter,” said Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in the case.

Under the new map, District 2 will stretch westward to the Mississippi border, taking in the capital city of Montgomery, western Black Belt counties and part of the city of Mobile. It used to be concentrated in the southeast corner of the state. Under the new map, Black residents will comprise 48.7% of the voting-age population. The special master said an analysis showed that candidates preferred by Black voters would have won 16 of 17 recent elections in the revamped district.

The new map could pit two current Republican congressmen against each other in 2024, and also draw a crowded field vying for the revamped District 2. Moore’s home is now in District 1, currently represented by Republican Rep. Jerry Carl. Moore could move back to District 2 to run, or try to challenge Carl, who is running again. Moore said Thursday that he is “prayerfully” weighing what to do.