A three judge-panel ruled Monday that Alabama's congressional maps must be redrawn to include two majority-Black districts. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A panel of federal court judges have thrown out Alabama's newly drawn congressional district maps, ordering for them to be redrawn to include an additional district where Black voters represent a large swath of the voting public.
The three judges of the Alabama district court unanimously ruled that the new congressional maps violated the Voting Rights Act by not accurately reflecting the state's demographics.
The Republican-majority Alabama Legislature in November approved legislative maps that maintained seven congressional districts with only one containing a majority of black voters.
Of the seven districts, District 7 is the only one represented in Washington, D.C., by a Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell, who is also the state's lone Black House representative.
Democrats were fast to criticize the maps as racial gerrymandering as Black people account for nearly 27% of the population, stating the districts should reflect as much.
The judges ruled Monday for the maps to be redrawn to include "either two majority-Black districts or two districts in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice."
"Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel said in granting the preliminary injunction.
"We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law," the judges continued.
The judges also stayed the Friday candidate qualification deadline and ordered it moved to Feb. 11 to allow legislature time to enact the new plan.
The Alabama Attorney General's Office told UPI in a statement that it "strongly disagrees" with the court's decision and "will be appealing in the coming days."
"The congressional map our legislature enacted fails Alabama's voters of color," plaintiff Evan Milligan said in a statement. "We deserve to be heard in our electoral process, rather than have our votes diluted using a map that purposefully cracks and packs Black communities."
The ruling was made in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama in November on behalf of the Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and several other groups and individuals.
Of the last six redistricting cycles since 1960, five of them were found by either the Department of Justice or federal courts to violate the Voting Rights Act.
According to court documents, District 7 has been represented by a Black Democrat since its inception as a majority-Black district in 1992 when a three-judge federal court drew it that way in a ruling similar to the one issued on Monday.
"It's past time for Alabama to move beyond its sordid history of racial discrimination at the polls, and to listen to and be responsive to the needs and concerns of voters of color, Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for ACLU of Alabama, said. "Not ensuring access to the ballot for all of the people and communities in Alabama is holding this state back from realizing its full potential."
The Monday decision is expected to be appealed.