by John Alford
As part of the mandated decennial redistricting, the Alabama legislature will change the lines for the State’s congressional and school board districts. Current and proposed maps can be found here. This redistricting will alter the political landscape of the State, but before Alabama can move forward on redistricting, the Federal Government has to approve of the new map as per the Voting Rights Act § 5 (“VRA”). Under the VRA § 5, there are two paths Alabama can take to get preclearance. It can seek approval through the Justice Department (DOJ) or through the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (For more on the VRA § 5, particularly why and how states like Alabama get preclearance from the Federal Government, see here.) Alabama has opted to take the matter to court.
Like many other covered jurisdictions, Alabama is unhappy with the requirement that the Justice Department (DOJ) keep tabs on its election process. To wit, Shelby County recently filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the preclearance process, so far unsuccessfully (see more about this lawsuit here.) The opinion in Shelby County emanates from the same court from which Alabama is seeking preclearance on redistricting. But the ruling against Shelby County should not alter how the District Court views the issue here. Overturning VRA § 5 would be an extreme political move, essentially declaring that issues of race no longer disrupt the electoral process in states historically notorious for prejudicial practices. Granting preclearance to a redistricting plan, as routinely done in the past, is nowhere near as high a hurdle for Alabama to clear. Continue reading