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Court Case

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama (Amicus Brief)

On remand, a three-judge panel in Alabama ruled 12 legislative districts in the state’s 2011 legislative map are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Published: December 15, 2017

Case Background

At the beginning of the year, a three-judge panel in Alabama ruled that 12 legislative districts in the state’s 2011 legislative map are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

When the Alabama Legislature redrew the state’s legislative maps in 2011, it adopted a policy requiring the population of majority African-American districts to be kept at pre-redistricting levels, even if that meant certain districts had to be significantly reshaped in order to equalize population. Alabama claims it adopted this policy to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Caucus each filed a suit in federal court, however, contending, among other things, that the rule resulted in a racial gerrymander prohibited under the Shaw v. Reno line of cases.

A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama consolidated the two cases, and on April 5, 2013 ruled in a 2-1 decision against the two groups of legislators, holding that they had not shown that the districts were redrawn primarily on the basis of race and rejecting other non-race based claims. The dissenting opinion is available here

The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Caucus appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and, in June, the Court noted probable jurisdiction over the racial gerrymander question as well as a question about the standing of the Alabama Democratic Caucus.

The Brennan Center filed an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court on its own behalf in support of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Caucus, seeking that the decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama be reversed and remanded. The Brennan Center’s brief argues that Alabama’s fixed racial percentages for districts, which the state adopted without conducting any factual analysis, fundamentally misconstrued the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and imposed racial quotas that cannot be justified by any compelling state interest. The brief argues that Section 5 requires a much more nuanced and factual analysis to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is not used as pretext for diminishing or harming the political rights of minority voters.

On March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. In a 5-4 decision, the Court reversed the district court's decision, finding that it had erred in three ways: 1) by asking whether race predominated in the drawing of the maps as a whole, rather than looking district by district, 2) by accepting the need to eliminate population deviations as evidence that the map was not drawn “predominately on the basis of race," and 3) by concluding that Alabama’s use of race was narrowly tailored because it had relied on a “highly mechanistic” reading of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act when it decided to adopt fixed racial targets. The Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. 

On remand in a 2-1 decision, the panel upheld the constitutionality of 24 of the 36 challenged districts, ruling that the legislature drew the districts were conscious enough of race to comply with the Voting Rights Act, but not so conscious of race that they violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The court has ordered the legislature to adopt a remedy correcting the deficiencies in the 12 unconstitutional districts in time for the 2018 elections.

On June 13, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus filed objections to portions of the state legislature’s remedial plans. The Alabama Democratic Caucus, however, said in a separate filing that it was satisfied with the remedial plans and had no further objections. On August 18, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus filed amended objections to the remedial legislative plans.

On October 12, the panel entered an opinion rejecting objections to the remedial plans. The opinion held that Black Caucus lacked standing to object to the specific districts at issue on either racial or partisan gerrymandering grounds. The panel also rejected the objections of proposed intervenors on the grounds that the objections were untimely.

On October 23, the court issued its final judgment, denying objections from the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and approving the remedial plan. The court closed the case following the final judgment.

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