BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A panel of federal judges called Alabama’s new congressional districts racially gerrymandered. Alabama’s Secretary of State has challenged the ruling and now the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case Tuesday.
Bradley Heard, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Deputy Legal Director, said the Supreme Court case is a direct attack by Alabama on one of the most essential tools to ensure fair and equal representation in voting.
“Redistricting matters and race and redistricting matters,” Heard said. “What’s at stake is really the ability of Black voters in Alabama to elect candidates of their choice.”
In January, a federal court struck down last fall’s newly drawn congressional map because it said it did not follow the law.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Historical Content Barry McNealy said it’s important to keep voting rights and the struggle for them in Alabama top of mind.
“We’d like to think that with the 1965 Voting Rights act these things would have been decided and we move forward as a country, but the political representation won’t let it go away,” McNealy said. “They have a role in making sure their representatives actually represent them.”
Tuesday’s case could make the decision if Alabama keeps the new voting district lines that lawmakers drew up last fall.
Former Alabama State Representative Paul DeMarco said the maps were drawn using all requirements while being color blind.
“There were changes to the districts, no question about it, but lawmakers felt that what they did met the constitutional requirements for redrawing maps based on the census,” DeMarco said. “If you do that, that would not be constitutional if you use that as a basis for drawing maps.”
Richard Rouco is an attorney representing one of those redistricting cases heading to the Supreme Court. He said it’s difficult to prove race is a driving factor behind the lines.
“It’s very hard to prove that there was a single intent and the only reason they did this was to deprive African American voters of the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice,” Rouco said.
Everyone agrees the Supreme Court ruling will impact Alabama and beyond.
“If the Supreme Court accepts the State of Alabama’s interpretation of the law it would effectively put an end to all of these kinds of cases,” Rouco said.
CBS 42 reached out to Secretary of State John Merrill’s Office. His office said they cannot comment on ongoing litigation. If the congressional lines need to be redrawn, Rouco said it would need to be done by 2024.