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Alabama's Battle Over Race and Redistricting Could Play a Role in Who Wins the House in 2024

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama – In a year when every U.S. House seat is up for election, voting looks different in one southern state where a panel of federal judges was forced to choose a new map for November. That's because the state legislature refused a federal order to draw a second majority Black district. It's one of several states where redistricting could play a major role in determining which party controls the U.S. House.

At Heritage Barber Shop here in Montgomery, owner Vladimir "Boo man" Averett makes sure to sprinkle the city's civil rights legacy between each cut.

"This whole United States changed on the backs of Montgomery is the history of making America who America was and what it is now," he said. "Montgomery started it from Dr. King, Rosa Parks. And it's time for us to continue that movement, to change it, to help assist in change in America."

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The Supreme Court stepped in to ensure that change would make voting more fair for Averett and all Alabama African Americans.

That's because Montgomery sits in the state's new congressional district, which intentionally includes a population of nearly 49% Black voters.

Plaintiff Khadidah Stone said, "I recognize that we come from a state who hasn't been kind to Black people in particularly, and it's been like a constant trial after trial."

A few years ago, Stone sued the state of Alabama, alleging the state's congressional map illegally diluted Black voting power.

A page at the Alabama House since age 15, she felt betrayed that legislators would be accused of racial gerrymandering.

"It felt like it was a huge slap in the face for them to just disenfranchise people who are just asking you for a fair fight," Stone said.

The last straw came in November 2021 when the legislature drew the state's congressional map with only one majority-Black district despite Black residents making up more than a quarter, approximately 27%, of the state's population.

That led Stone and other residents to sue the Alabama secretary of state.

In January 2022, a three-judge panel, including two former President Donald Trump appointees, ordered Alabama's legislature to redraw the map to include two majority — or near-majority—Black districts. 

The state then appealed to the Supreme Court. More than a year later, in June 2023, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's ruling, holding the Alabama map likely violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The following month, in the face of that ruling, the Alabama legislature created a 2023 redistricting map with only one majority-Black district.

Rev. Allen Sims Sr., of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, said, "It was disappointing. And then the fact that Alabama became a spectacle to the nation and the world, that we just cannot even listen to the Supreme Court."

Rev. Sims leads the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor when he helped organize the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. In a sanctuary that's seen its share of struggle, Sims says justice was served when the district court stepped in once more to order a "special master" to redraw state maps for the 2024 elections.

"Be fair, and, and be on the side of right now," Sims said.

Montgomery has always been central to freedom's fight. The Confederacy began in the Alabama State Capitol Senate chambers in 1861 under Jefferson Davis who believed that slavery was protected by the Constitution.  A century later, in 1965 the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery culminated on these same capitol steps, a push for ballot access that continues today.
Some officials here believe redistricting is best left to the state, despite the disregard legislators showed to federal court orders. Alabama GOP Chairman John Wahl still sees the 2021 map as legitimate.

"I genuinely believe that what we should do as a society is look at people as individuals and stand for individual liberty, individual rights, for civil rights, and that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights," Wahl said. "And if we look at people as individuals and not based on the color of their skin, it doesn't matter what the percentage of any race is in a district, because we're looking at each person as important."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh sought to specifically address that point, writing in the Supreme Court's ruling, "Redistricting, requires in certain circumstances that courts account for the race of voters so as to prevent the cracking or packing—whether intentional or not." 

One legal defense fund lawyer who argued the case before the court says justices acknowledged how Black voters in the Black belt region of the state were cracked, or unnecessarily divided among multiple districts, or packed into a single district to limit influence in other parts of the state.

Brittany Carter of the Legal Defense Fund said, "You don't end up with Black people having virtually zero success of winning a statewide election, which is what the lower court found and what the Supreme Court acknowledged by accident."

In a statement on "X", Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen confirms his office will facilitate the 2024 election cycle based on the map the federal court "forced" upon Alabama but that more legal options remain.

A trial before the same three-judge panel will take place in 2025, and voters say they'll be ready.

"When I see something isn't right, I'm gonna find a solution to do something about it. I think that's like the core being of my life," Stone said.

Rev. Sims says he's praying faith facilitates what's fair. "Whatever betide, God will take care of you. And that's the hope that we give to our congregants as a hope that we give to our communities and to our cities, that God is a providential God," he said.

In the wake of the Alabama decision, Louisiana and Georgia both have court orders to redraw Republican-drawn maps. There's also pending litigation to consider new majority-Black state legislative districts in South Carolina and Texas.

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