After claiming race was a predominant factor in GOP-led redistricting efforts in 2012, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus (ALBC) and the Alabama Democratic Conference think they can do a better job with their own maps and they’re ready to prove it in court.
In a 2013 case arising from two separate lawsuits, the plaintiffs recently filed documents in federal court supporting legislative district lines they claim minimize race as a factor and split fewer county and voting precinct lines, according to attorney James Blacksher, who cited the Fourteenth Amendment as protection from factoring race into the process of redistricting.
Attorney General Luther Strange’s office has until Friday, Nov. 13, to respond, spokesman Mike Lewis said, and his office is currently reviewing the plaintiffs’ maps.
A three-judge panel initially threw the case out, but the decision was reversed on a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in March and kicked back to the lower court.
In August, the plaintiffs were tasked with drawing district lines meeting the same criteria as those drawn by legislators in 2012, which included a population deviation of plus or minus 1 percent, but did not use race as a predominant factor. In a brief filed Sept. 25, the plaintiffs wrote their redistricting plans could be drawn “without splitting nearly as many county and precinct boundaries” as the state attempted.
“We do not contend they are the best or only way to draw [1 percent] plans that satisfy this court’s requirements,” the brief read. “They are not presented as proposed remedial plans because they have had no input from plaintiff ALBC members, or from other members of the legislature. But, as redistricting exercises, they make it apparent that race was the predominant purpose for so many county and precinct splits in Alabama’s plan, specifically, the pursuit of the drafters’ mechanical racial targeting policy.”
The plaintiffs’ plans maintain 27 minority majority districts in the House, like the 2012 plans, as well as an “ability-to-elect” district, where blacks make up about 49 percent of the electorate. The plans also preserve the eight minority Senate districts existing under the old plan.
Blacksher said the new plans differ from the 2012 draft by ignoring racial targets, which he said resulted in a dilution of black voters in some areas.
“The only reason the drafters of the state plans split over 200 precincts and 50 county lines was to hit racial percentage targets,” he said. “What our plans show is that all of the state’s non-racial excuses have been undermined.”
The plaintiffs’ plans tried to “restore as many county and precinct boundaries as possible.” The ALBC Senate plan has 25 districts and the ALBC House plan has 105 districts.
“[Our] plans show the drafters could’ve done a better job with the districts, not classifying by race,” Blacksher said. “[Our] plans succeeded in demonstrating more county and district splits could’ve been avoided.”
Because the ALBC plans tried to keep counties intact, its plan splits a total of 43 counties, while the contested 2012 plan split 50 counties. The ALBC Senate plan splits 23 counties, while the contested 2012 plan splits 33.
“But the counts of total split counties tell only part of the story,” September’s motion reads. “Some counties must be split to comply with the plus or minus 1 percent deviation requirement because their populations are too large to fit whole inside one or more districts.”
Only Montgomery and Mobile counties could be kept whole when divided into multiple House districts.
Mobile County, with a population of 412,992, was drawn whole in the ALBC plans with nine House districts and three Senate districts.
“Mobile was a primary example of how the districts could have been drawn differently,” Blacksher said. “Mobile could come out completely whole.”
In the contested plan, Mobile County was split into 10 house districts, with District 97 crossing the county line.
Statewide, the 2012 plan featured more county line splits among multiple districts than the ALBC plan. The state’s house plan crosses 140 county boundaries, while the ALBC plan only crosses 107. Senate district lines crossed boundaries 80 times, compared to 49 in the ALBC’s plan.
Blacksher said it’s important the districts cross as few county borders as possible because local delegations, representing counties, often meet and make decisions on local bills. He said reducing the number of split counties was the “main thrust of the redistricting effort.”
“If [they] can’t cross county boundaries, they can’t draw lines however they want and pick their voters,” Blacksher said.
Splitting county lines didn’t even occur until 1974, he said. Before then, districts were strictly assigned to counties.
Attempts to reach elected proponents of the ALBC’s plan were unsuccessful. But State Sen. Rusty Glover (District 34-Semmes) defended the 2012 proposal, saying legislators were handcuffed by the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act when the lines were drawn. In a landmark Supreme Court decision, that provision was removed recently in a separate case originating out of Shelby County.
As an example of the problem, Glover said legislators had to maintain a certain percentage of black voters in certain districts or it wouldn’t “pass muster with [President Barack] Obama’s Justice Department.”
“Whether it was race related or not, we had to do it,” he said. “Democrats want to cry ‘racism, racism,’ but that wasn’t the case.”
Similarly, State Rep. Chris Pringle (District 101-Mobile) said the current districts are better compared to “what we used to have” when Democrats controlled the process. He said now Republicans are drawing “zero-deviation” districts, which is an improvement over the older, 5 percent mandate.
Pringle also said splitting county lines isn’t always a bad idea, either. He noted the line doesn’t necessarily split up a community, as there are cities split by boundaries.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, all or at least some of the districts could be redrawn, Blacksher said. Unresolved district lines could also be settled by referendum.
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