26 Jul SPECIAL SESSION – REAPPORTIONMENT – JULY 26, 2023
CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING SPECIAL SESSION
In June, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a three-judge panel’s finding that Alabama’s current Congressional district map violates the federal Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel gave Alabama until Friday, July 21, 2023, at midnight to adopt a new map and submit it for review.
On Tuesday, June 27th, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a proclamation to call the Alabama Legislature into a special session beginning at 2 p.m. Monday, July 17, 2023, to address congressional redistricting.
In weeks leading up to the special session, the Joint Legislative Reapportionment Committee held multiple public hearings where members of the public, plaintiffs, and a variety of state and national organizations were given the opportunity to speak in support of or opposition to released maps and submit their own redistricting plans.
The three-judge panel ruled in 2022 that the current legislative map likely violates the federal Voting Rights Act and said any new map should include two districts where “Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or very close to it.”
On July 17, the Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment held its final meeting before the legislature convened for its second special session of the year. When the full legislature convened, several maps were introduced by the majority and minority caucuses.
From the maps that were introduced, two different maps were approved and began moving through the legislative process – the “Communities of Interest” plan by Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) and the “Livingston Congressional Plan 2” by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro). Both maps were fairly similar as the Livingston plan was a revised version of Rep. Chris Pringle’s version.
Maintaining their differences, the House and Senate members approved their separate maps Friday morning forcing a few selected members from both bodies to meet as a conference committee. The conference committee members from the House included Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), and Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa). The Senate members included Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro), Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (R-Birmingham).
After behind the scenes negotiations, a new map called the Livingston Congressional Plan 3 was drawn up and voted on during the conference committee meeting later Friday afternoon. While Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District in North Alabama had relatively been left alone all week, Sen. Livingston’s map took a different approach and changed it slightly.
“We made additional changes in North Alabama. Lawrence County was taken out of the fourth district and put into the fifth district. Coosa County was taken out of the third District and put back into the sixth district,” State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) said. “The second District added Lowndes County and Butler County and a deviation split up in Elmore County. Down in the first district some change in Covington County. Etowah County that was split into the third and fourth Districts (previously) went into the third district as a whole. It was a change that brought in additional compactness when we ran the numbers. They were substantially better than any of the other numbers we had including the previous Livingston 2 map. It also raised the (black voting age population, or BVAP) in district two significantly.”
The conference committee approved the new map version with a vote of 4-2 along party lines. The Senate reconvened quickly after the conference committee vote and passed the map with major support from Republicans and expected opposition from Democratic members. The map was then sent to the House through a Senate message where the House members concurred with the new map version and it was ultimately sent to the Governor for final signature.
A copy of the new map and demographic statistics by congressional district can be viewed here.
Alabama’s seventh congressional district is currently the only majority-black congressional district in Alabama and will remain that way under the new map, if approved by the Supreme Court. Many are eagerly waiting to hear what the Supreme Court’s decision will be in the coming months due to concern over compliance since the Legislature did not draw a second majority Black district in the final map.
In 2022, federal judges blocked Alabama from using its newly-adopted congressional districts in upcoming elections due to the state having just one Black-majority district, despite the state’s 27% Black population being enough to produce two Black-majority districts.
The three-judge panel further wrote that “any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it,” a ruling that was upheld and affirmed by the Supreme Court.
With one of the Livingston Congressional Plan 3 map’s so-called opportunity districts having a BVAP of just 39.93%, nearly all Alabama Democrats said the courts would likely reject the map and appoint a special master to create one in the Legislature’s stead.
The three-judge federal court panel has tentatively scheduled a hearing to start Aug. 14 to hear challenges to the plan.