A federal court has ruled that 12 of Alabama’s legislative districts were unconstitutional, citing an improper use of race in their composition. The three-judge panel enjoined the use of the districts in future elections, but stopped short of intervening in the drawing of new districts. The judges wrote in a separate order:
It is this court’s expectation that the state legislature will adopt a remedy in a timely and effective manner, correcting the constitutional deficiencies in its plans in sufficient time for conducting the 2018 primary and general elections, without the need for court intervention.
The decision ends a chapter in a nearly five-year battle over the district lines – which has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court – and adds another item to a lengthy punch list awaiting state lawmakers this month.
The 2-1 majority of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Bill Pryor and U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins upheld the constitutionality of 24 districts challenged in a lawsuit brought by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC). U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, while concurring in that decision, wrote that he would have found 12 other districts unconstitutional and argued the majority did not properly apply earlier instructions from the nation’s high court.
The impact of the decision will certainly go beyond the affected districts. Redrawing the boundaries will mean adjustments to others. The judges ruled nine House and three Senate districts unconstitutional. Democrats represent all 12. Black lawmakers represent all but two of the districts.
The Legislative Black Caucus and the ADC argued that the Republican-controlled Legislature deliberately moved black voters, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates, into districts that prevented them from forming alliances with like-minded white voters, muting their voices in the process.
Legislators used a strict standard that prevented the House and Senate districts from going above or below one percent of their ideal population. Republicans argued that the standard allowed them to maintain minority percentages in those districts, and to address population losses in them.
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