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Court to check if new congressional map in Alabama weakens the power of Black voters

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Alabama's legislature drew new election maps. The Supreme Court said it had to. The court majority said the state violated the Voting Rights Act by approving a map that dilutes the power of Black voters in Alabama. Of seven congressional districts, Black candidates were likely to elect their candidate in only one. The court said there should have been two. And having been told to make two districts, Alabama's legislature voted on a map where Black people are still a majority in one. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been covering this story. Hansi, good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the map look like?

WANG: Well, the only majority-Black district on this map is in west Alabama. It's called District 7. And Black Alabamians who are old enough to vote there make up about 50.65% of eligible voters, so just barely crossing the 50% threshold to be majority. And there is also District 2 in Alabama's southeastern corner. It includes the state capital, Montgomery. It's about 40% Black.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, I'm trying to figure out what those numbers mean. The court has said you need two districts where Black voters have a chance to elect their candidates. It does sound like there are two districts where there are a lot of Black voters, even if not a majority in both cases. Is that enough to satisfy the court ruling?

WANG: Well, this map is not the most straightforward way of following the court's order, which would have been to draw two majority-Black districts. And, you know, this has sparked a lot of frustration from voting rights advocates because this case has already been reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and has already shown that voting in Alabama is so racially polarized that it's highly unlikely that a district that is majority white would also be a district where there's a realistic chance for a win by a candidate of choice of Black voters, which is likely to be a Democrat. So this map is, like, expected to renew this legal battle. And, you know, we should keep in mind, this fight's been going on now for close to two years. And voters in Alabama have already had to vote last year using an illegal map that was found likely to minimize Black voting power.

INSKEEP: Yeah. That's a very interesting point. As a matter of fact, it was found before the election to be an illegal map, and the Supreme Court said, eh, go ahead and use it while we consider the case. They let Alabama do that map one time, then they did rule against the map. Could there be a new map in place in time for 2024?

WANG: Well, if - the three-judge panel that's hearing this case right now has already appointed experts to take over and draw a new map if they decide to reject this map. And, you know, I talked to Kareem Crayton, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's Law School. He's also consulted with Democrats in the Alabama state House in an earlier round of redistricting. And Crayton told me that it's very likely that the court-appointed experts will draw the map that will be used in next year's elections, and that could hurt current Republican members of Congress.

KAREEM CRAYTON: To some degree, they have compatriots in the Republican Party who are going to potentially make it uncertain what their districts are going to look like in 2024. And if the legal wrangling means at the very last minute they have to reshuffle where they get their money, how they organize campaign strategy, that puts them at a pretty significant disadvantage.

WANG: Yeah. Kareem Crayton also told me there's a possibility that Alabama Republicans may be trying to go back to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that risks another delay in Alabama voters voting under a fair map that does not dilute the power of Black voters.

INSKEEP: Well, where does the legal battle go then?

WANG: Formal objections to this map are due to the federal court this Friday, and there's a court hearing scheduled for mid-August. So we'll see how this pans out.

INSKEEP: Hansi, thanks so much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

WANG: You're very welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang on the state of Alabama, which is battling over a congressional district map. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.