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Court ruling on Black political power in Alabama could affect maps in other states

Evan Milligan, center, plaintiff in an Alabama redistricting case, speaks following Supreme Court oral arguments on Oct. 4, 2022. The court on Thursday ruled in favor of Milligan in the case, ordering the creation of a second Alabama congressional district with a large Black population.
Patrick Semansky
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AP
Evan Milligan, center, plaintiff in an Alabama redistricting case, speaks following Supreme Court oral arguments on Oct. 4, 2022. The court on Thursday ruled in favor of Milligan in the case, ordering the creation of a second Alabama congressional district with a large Black population.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers have to redraw congressional district lines after a significant U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could affect political maps across the South for years to come.

In a 5-4 decision released Thursday, the justices upheld a key section of the Voting Rights Act as they found that a congressional map drawn by Alabama's Republican-controlled legislature after the 2020 census diluted the power of Black voters in a state where 1 in 4 residents is Black.

"The point of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act emphasizes that you cannot dilute political voting power," said JaTaune Bosby Gilchrist, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. "And that's exactly what this was: a dilution of Black political voting power in the state."

Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference, was also happy with the ruling, which gives Black Democrats a chance at a second congressional seat in the state.

"If we got two majority-Black districts," Reed said, "in all probability we'll get, we get a second Black congressman. And in all probability, if we have anything to say about it, we gonna try to make it a Democratic congressman."

Reed spoke while sitting in front of a large congressional map that he called a near-perfect plan. The existing map has seven districts, with one majority-Black representative. This new map showed two majority-Black districts.

Joe Reed sits next to his preferred Alabama congressional map.
/ Kyle Gassiott/Troy Public Radio
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Kyle Gassiott/Troy Public Radio
Joe Reed sits next to his preferred Alabama congressional map.

Republicans in the state faulted the decision.

GOP Secretary of State Wes Allen said in a statement: "I am disappointed in today's Supreme Court opinion but it remains the commitment of the Secretary of State's Office to comply with all applicable election laws."

A few House seats could swing

The Supreme Court's ruling is likely to have effects beyond Alabama.

Republicans currently hold a slim majority in the U.S. House, and this decision could provide a roadmap for other gerrymandering challenges.

Just in the South, there are similar court challenges to congressional maps in Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia, where the Voting Rights Act would apply.

In Georgia, plaintiffs in a case there argue that Republican-drawn maps made a metro Atlanta district whiter and friendlier to the GOP — despite people of color driving the state's population growth. A judge last year ruled it was too late to change the maps before midterm elections, but wrote he had reason to believe they may violate the Voting Rights Act.

Redone maps could result, according to some experts, in a few more majority-Black and Democratic seats in the House, so that could shift power in Washington, D.C. — and in areas throughout the South.

In a statement, Evan Milligan — a lead plaintiff in the Alabama case, Allen v. Milligan, and executive director of the group Alabama Forward — said: "Moving forward, we will continue organizing to ensure that all states draw accurately representative maps that include the say of Black and Brown communities."

WABE's Sam Gringlas contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 Troy Public Radio. To see more, visit Troy Public Radio.

Kyle Gassiott