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Alabama's rejected congressional map dilutes Black voters' political power

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Alabama's congressional map will be redrawn again. A panel of federal judges has, for the second time, struck down a map from Republican state lawmakers. At issue is the political power of Black voters. Stephan Bisaha is a reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom in Birmingham, and he joins us now. Hi there.

STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So Stephan, there has just been a lot of back-and-forth over this map. What led us to this moment?

BISAHA: You know, we got to go back to last year, 2022. These same federal judges - they ruled that Alabama's congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act, and that's because it didn't have two districts where Black voters had a chance to elect the candidate of their choice, which is what you really should have if you're looking at the population here in Alabama. They just had one. The Supreme Court eventually backed up the federal judges on this, so Alabama gets ordered to create this map with two majority-Black districts, or at least something close to it. And Alabama comes back with a map that still just has one majority-Black district. Alabama's attorneys in the hearing last month - they admitted that the state did not follow the court's order but said to make a map based on race would be affirmative action and illegal.

SUMMERS: OK. So what did the court - this panel of federal judges - make of those arguments?

BISAHA: Well, the court - they firmly rejected these arguments. I mean, it had some strong language in there by court standards, saying that they were deeply troubled by Alabama's behavior - that Alabama did not even nurture the ambition to follow their orders. And it basically said, look, if you're not going to listen to us, well, we're just going to have to draw this map for you.

SUMMERS: Hmm. We heard from Evan Milligan, the lead plaintiff in the case, elsewhere in today's show, and he told me that he was encouraged. What else have you been hearing in terms of reaction from folks there in Alabama?

BISAHA: Well, the celebration hasn't really stopped since the Supreme Court decision back in June. You got Black Alabamians and Democrats in the state - they saw that as a victory, and they see this as a continuation of that victory. Now, the office of the Alabama attorney general says this is not over. They are disappointed in the decision, and they're saying they'll try and bring it back to the Supreme Court.

SUMMERS: Right. And we should just remind folks that Republicans have already lost there at the Supreme Court. So what is the thinking in bringing this back to the high court?

BISAHA: Well, you got to remember that ruling back in June - it was a surprise. You got a Supreme Court that's firmly leaning right, and they ruled against a Republican state legislature. Again, it was by a slim margin. You had Roberts and - you had Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh siding with the liberals. Now, we understand that the Alabama politicians and officials - they're hoping to flip Brett Kavanaugh on this. They did some things to kind of appeal to what he wrote in his ruling about not just the Voting Rights Act but wanting to keep communities of interest together. So they tried to do that without making this majority-Black district, and the state's hoping that's going to flip him to their side.

SUMMERS: OK. We've got about 30 seconds left here. Assuming that the Supreme Court might stay out of this one, what are the next steps? How will voters there in Alabama know who will be on their ballot next year?

BISAHA: Well, the court said, do not use the current map. They've tapped a special master to create a map instead, and the timeline on this is tight. The special master has until the end of the month to submit three different options. Already - the court is already anticipating pushback. They have an October date set aside for a hearing, so expect the lines to be literally drawn in official some times in October. But, of course, the Supreme Court can throw their own monkey wrench into this if they decide to get involved again.

SUMMERS: That is Stephan Bisaha from the Gulf States Newsroom. Stephan, thanks for your reporting.

BISAHA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.