Updated Oct 5, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Court approves Alabama congressional map that expands Black voting power

President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) Janai Nelson (C) speaks to members of the press after the oral argument of the Merrill v. Milligan case at the U.S. Supreme Court on October 4, 2022 in Washington, DC.

President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) Janai Nelson (C) speaks to members of the press after the oral argument of the Merrill v. Milligan case at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 2022. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A federal court on Thursday approved a new Alabama congressional map that expands the voting power of Black residents in the state.

Why it matters: The new map punctuates a lengthy legal battle and puts Democrats in a position to pick up a House seat next November as they vie to reclaim the majority in the closely divided chamber.

  • "This long and arduous battle over Alabama's congressional map serves as a solemn reminder that efforts to deny fair representation to Black and minority voters are still alive and well," said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), the state's only Black lawmaker.

Driving the news: A panel of judges approved a map that includes a majority Black district, as well as a district that is about 49% Black, in response to concerns about the state's Black vote being suppressed.

  • The Supreme Court ruled in June that Black Alabama residents were underrepresented in Congress because the state was in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark Civil Rights law requires districts that provide minority voters with "an equal opportunity to participate in the political process."
  • Black residents make up roughly 30% of Alabama's population but the state only had one majority Black district, which is represented by Sewell, the state's only Democrat in Congress.

Catch up quick: A federal court got involved in the case after the Supreme Court ruling because the state's Republican lawmakers refused to approve a map that significantly expanded Black residents' voting power.

  • Alabama's Republican-led legislature submitted a map that Democrats sharply criticized. It included only one majority Black district and six others where the Black population ranged from 7% to 42.5%.
  • A three-judge panel rejected that map in August and decided to appoint a special master to approve a new map that was in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling.

What they're saying: "Allen v. Milligan has delivered a long-awaited victory for our democracy," said Janai Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., a civil rights organization that joined in the lawsuit challenging the map.

Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from Rep. Sewell.

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