Alabama found guilty of racial gerrymandering

A major ruling with national implications.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley shakes hands with representatives before he speaks during the annual State of the State address at the Capitol. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley shakes hands with representatives before he speaks during the annual State of the State address at the Capitol. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the state of Alabama engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering in at least 12 districts in order to preserve a Republican supermajority. The ruling is a victory for the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, which has been fighting in court for years against voting maps that intentionally limit the voting power of African Americans by packing them into as few oddly-shaped districts as possible.

The decision, which came down on the day Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office, calls on Alabama to re-draw 12 districts that were drawn “predominantly” based on race. These districts are all currently represented by Democrats, and 10 out of 12 by Black Democrats.

Unless Alabama appeals, the state will have to redraw its voting maps to comply with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution before the next election in 2018. The leader of the statehouse Democrats, Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said the state should take the opportunity to transition to an independent system that doesn’t allow the majority party to draw maps that help them hold onto power.

“Today’s ruling highlights the need to take the politics out of drawing legislative districts and instead, rely on an independent, non-partisan commission,” he said.

Republicans now control 68 out of 99 state legislative chambers and control both chambers in 33 states, riding a wave that began in 2010. Since then, they have come under fire in several states for engaging in illegal gerrymandering.

In November, a federal court ordered the state of North Carolina to redraw its unconstitutionally and racially gerrymandered voting maps. That same month, Wisconsin’s maps were struck down for intentionally drawing Republicans into safe, non-competitive districts.

A major case on the issue is likely to come before the U.S. Supreme Court later this year, with one of the most successful lawyers in the country leading the fight against partisan gerrymandering. Another one of the most influential legal minds in the nation — former Attorney General Eric Holder —will also join the fight, seeking to pressure states to adopt non-partisan systems before the next census in 2020.

If they prevail, it will mean a national shakeup of the political landscape that could break Republican dominance of state legislatures and the House of Representatives.