Redistricting Challenges in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia
On September 26, the Supreme Court of the United States denied the state of Alabama’s appeal to continue using a Congressional map that was previously ruled as racially gerrymandered. A new map was approved on October 5 to be used in the 2024 elections, which notably increases Black voter power, with the inclusion of a second majority Black district. This marks a considerable change in direction regarding the redistricting legal battles that Alabama has faced since 2022. Similar cases in Louisiana and Georgia are also re-challenging maps, raising the question of whether or not they will be redrawn for the 2024 election cycle.
Back in January 2022, a three-judge federal panel found Alabama district maps to be in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlaws discrimination in voting procedures on the basis of race. The map included one Black majority district out of Alabama’s seven districts, which the judges argued limited Black voter power. The Black population in Alabama is 27%, a percentage which the three-judge panel stated should be reflected in “two Black majority districts or two districts in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.” Likewise, lower court orders in Louisiana and Georgia found maps to be racially gerrymandered and requested them to be redrawn before the 2022 election cycle. In Louisiana, the Black population is 32%, and yet 5 of their current 6 representatives in the House are white.
Though ruled illegal, these gerrymandered maps were still used in the 2022 election cycle due to a Supreme Court election law precedent called the Purcell Principle—an informal election law established with the Supreme Court case Purcell v. Gonzalez. Purcell v. Gonzalez ruled in 2006 that an Arizona election law requiring photo ID for voter registration could not be changed or blocked because the election cycle was already imminent. Therefore, lower court orders in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia requiring gerrymandered maps to be redrawn in 2022 were reversed in an emergency stay by the Supreme Court, also citing the proximity of the 2022 election cycle.
The November 2022 elections resulted in Republican control of the House of Representatives by five seats. Three of these seats might have been lost by Republicans had gerrymandered maps been redrawn in 2022; a fact which demonstrates the dramatic impact that continued use of the same gerrymandered maps in the 2024 election cycle could have. Those in support of redrawing maps for 2024 in the three states became hopeful after the Supreme Court decision in Allen v. Milligan in June 2023, which upheld the original ruling by the Alabama three-judge panel that the 2022 Alabama Congressional district map violated the Voting Rights Act.
Further, the emergency stay on redrawing maps imposed by the Supreme Court was lifted this past June. In Alabama, a new map called the “2023 Plan” was proposed on July 21. However, this new map did not include a second Black majority district, failing to fix the violation of the Voting Rights Act upheld in Allen v. Milligan. On September 5, the same three-judge court rejected the 2023 Plan, stating “We are disturbed by the evidence that the State delayed remedial proceedings but ultimately did not even nurture the ambition to provide the required remedy.”
The Alabama court ordered legislatures to redraw maps once again to address the problem in question and include a second Black majority district. Alabama appealed to the Supreme Court to reject this order, stating that the creation of a second majority district would make race a dominant factor in redistricting. This appeal was denied on September 26, allowing the redrawing of the maps for the 2024 election cycle to proceed.
In a press release, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall responded to the rejection, stating, “There should be nothing more offensive to the people of our great state than to be sidelined in 2023 by a view of Alabama that is stuck in 1963.” He affirms that the legislature will continue to support the 2023 map drawn in July, arguing that the new court-drawn maps would be racially gerrymandered in their inclusion of a second Black majority district. However, the three-judge court proceeded in hearings on three new proposed maps. A final map was selected on October 5 that gives greater power to Black voters in a second district. This finalizes the legal challenges in Alabama with a new map for 2024 elections and may significantly increase Democratic opportunity in the majority-Republican state.
In Louisiana, challengers to the redrawing of gerrymandered maps state that Black voters that should not be included in the same district are being pushed together in redrawn maps. In Georgia, a trial regarding the redrawing of maps began on September 5, presided over by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones. Time will tell if these states are also impacted by the Allen v. Milligan decision that pushed Alabama to use more racially representative, less gerrymandered maps.