Court Finds Unconstitutional Racial Gerrymandering in Alabama Legislative DistrictsFebruary 02, 2017

A federal court found that Alabama legislators unconstitutionally relied on race in redrawing 12 state legislative districts.

In 2012, after Republicans gained majority control of Alabama's legislature, they created a new map that increased the concentration of black voters in several districts to more than 75 percent. The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and Alabama Democratic Conference challenged the redistricting, arguing that it was designed to reduce black voting strength in terms of districts, to reduce the strength of black minority population in majority-white counties, and to prevent coalitions among black, Hispanic, Native American, and white Democrats.

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court considered the plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claims, and in 2015, the Court vacated the lower federal court's decision upholding the redistricting plan and sent the case back for review. The Court found that Alabama had a statewide policy of racial targets designed to keep the black population in each majority-black district at or above the percentage of that district in 2010. It ordered the lower court to evaluate whether that policy resulted in illegal racial gerrymandering on a district-by-district basis.

Justice Antonin Scalia took issue with how the case had been presented in court, but wrote in dissent, "Racial gerrymandering strikes at the heart of our democratic process, undermining the electorate's confidence in its government as representative of a cohesive body politic in which all citizens are equal before the law."

A three-judge panel of the federal district court in Montgomery unanimously agreed that in 14 of the 36 legislative districts, legislators unjustifiably used race as the "dominant or controlling" consideration in redrawing districts.

The decision enjoined the use of 12 unconstitutional districts in future elections, and the court ordered the legislature to correct the constitutional deficiencies before the 2018 primary elections. Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, who co-chaired the redistricting committee, told the Montgomery Advertiser that he expected to convene the redistricting committee early in the 2017 legislative session to address the court's order. The 2017 session begins on February 7.