Court rejects challenge to Alabama districting map

Published 10:20 pm Friday, October 13, 2017

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A federal court has dismissed a challenge to Alabama’s new legislative districting maps, ruling that Democrats who fought three Jefferson County districts redrawn under the plan lacked the legal standing to bring their challenge.

A three-judge panel also ruled that the challenge failed to provide a legal standard for the court to consider, The Montgomery Advertiser reported.

Opponents filed suit over the latest legislative districting approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature last spring. Judges had ordered lawmakers to draw new lines before the 2018 election.

Plaintiffs’ attorney James Blacksher said the issue will likely come up again after the next U.S. Census. “It leaves the question open for 2020,” he said.

Attorney General Steve Marshall said the ruling “should remove any uncertainty over the status of these legislative districts.”

“I am glad that this litigation has come to an end, and the state house and senate districts that the Alabama Legislature enacted this year have withstood legal challenge,” Marshall said in a statement.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved redistricting maps in 2012. The three-judge panel upheld the maps in 2013 over the objection of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who wrote that the standard used by the Legislature amounted to a “racial quota.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the panel to reconsider the maps in 2015, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing that the court needed to look at the individual districts, not the map as a whole.

The panel in January ruled 12 districts unconstitutional and ordered the Legislature to come up with a remedy. Legislators ended up adjusting 25 of 35 Senate districts, and about 70 of 105 House districts, reducing racial polarization in most districts.

But Jefferson County Democrats objected to districts in their area, saying Republicans included legislators who lived outside the county to give the GOP a majority of legislative seats in the county.

The Black Caucus argued that the “partisan purposes of the Jefferson County gerrymanders in the instant action would violate many of the constitutional standards that have been proposed to the Supreme Court.”

The judges disagreed, writing that plaintiffs brought forth to sustain the claim did not have standing. The judges also wrote that the assertion did “not support a conclusion” that Republicans drew the districts “in an invidious manner or in a way unrelated to any legitimate legislative objective.”

The court has already approved special elections under the new map.