A three-judge federal court heard arguments on August 25 on whether Alabama’s legislative district lines violate the constitutional rights of black voters by packing them into minority districts. The same three-judge court about 3 years ago rejected claims of racial gerrymandering made in lawsuits by the Legislative Black Caucus, the Alabama Democratic Conference and others. That was a 2-1 decision. The districts were used in the 2014 election. The district map did not reduce the number of majority black districts. But the plaintiffs claimed it reduced the number of black voters in other districts, weakening their ability to influence outcomes in those districts.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, sent the case back to the three-judge court for reconsideration, saying the panel erred on several points in its ruling. In the majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court said the lower court used the wrong reasoning in concluding that race was not a predominant factor in drawing district lines. It also said the lower court wrongly considered the plaintiffs’ claims as a challenge against the overall district plan, rather than to individual districts. Justice Breyer wrote there was strong evidence that race was the predominant factor used in drawing Senate District 26 in Montgomery. That’s one of four Senate districts specifically challenged by the ADC. The others are District 7 in Huntsville, District 11 in St. Clair, Talladega and Shelby counties and District 22 in Mobile and other counties in southwest Alabama.
Justice Breyer was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor. Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. The three-judge court consists of Presiding Judge Bill Pryor and Judges Myron Thompson and Keith Watkins. Judge Thompson dissented in the 2012 decision. During the recent hearing the plaintiffs were ordered by the panel to draw a good plan and to report back to the court.
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