By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – A federal court on Thursday ordered Alabama to implement a new congressional map that will likely give Democrats an additional seat in next year’s elections, when control of the closely divided U.S. House of Representatives is up for grabs.
The three-judge panel selected a map that preserves the state’s lone majority-Black district while creating a second district in which Black voters make up nearly half of the voting-age population.
The decision came after the court found – for the second time – that congressional lines drawn by the Republican-dominated state legislature likely violated the Voting Rights Act by illegally diluting Black votes.
Democrats would need to flip five seats in the 435-seat House of Representatives to take back the majority in the November 2024 election.
More than a quarter of Alabama’s residents are Black, but the Republican-backed plans only included a single district in which Black voters made up a majority or close to it. That district, the 7th, is represented by the state’s lone Democrat, Terri Sewell, a Black woman.
Civil rights groups challenged the Republican map, arguing that Republicans had deliberately spread Black voters thin to ensure they would continue to win six of the state’s seven districts.
The U.S. Supreme Court twice declined to overturn the panel’s conclusions that the Republican plans were unlawful.
“It did not have to be this way,” the panel wrote in its decision on Thursday. “And it would not have been this way if the legislature had created a second opportunity district or majority-minority district.”
Similar challenges are also pending in Louisiana and Georgia, where civil rights groups have argued that Republican lawmakers illegally disadvantaged Black voters by manipulating congressional lines.
The new Alabama map was one of three that a court-appointed special master drew for its consideration.
The panel included two judges appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump. The third was appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan and then elevated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Democratic former President Bill Clinton.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Aurora Ellis)