James Thomas, et al. v. John H. Merrill, et al.
When Alabama lawmakers drew new state legislative districts in 2021, they deliberately diminished the power of Black voters, continuing the state’s sordid record of racial discrimination in the electoral system. The Southern Poverty Law Center and its co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit challenging the discriminatory districts.
The lawsuit describes how the new district maps deny Black voters equal opportunity to participate in the political process by racial gerrymandering through “packing” and “cracking” Black communities into districts. “Packing” refers to packing great numbers of people of color into the same district to prevent them from exercising greater political power in surrounding districts. “Cracking” refers to splitting communities of color into different districts to prevent them from exercising greater political power.
As a result, Alabama’s new district maps violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and demand a redrawing of the districts, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and several voters including James Thomas, Laquisha “Que” Chandler, Khadidah Stone and Evan Milligan.
Legislative districts – drawn as part of a once-in-a-decade redistricting process triggered by the 2020 census data – determine the allocation of political power, representation and access to resources at every level of government for the next 10 years. The 2021 redistricting process was the first after the landmark 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Alabama and other states with long histories of racial discrimination no longer must obtain U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) approval for the maps before their implementation.
The lawsuit describes Alabama’s “sordid record” of using racial discrimination to maintain power. In five of the six redistricting cycles since 1960, the DOJ or federal courts have found that Alabama’s political districts – congressional, state legislative, or both – violated the rights of voters under the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. After the last redistricting, in 2010, a federal court struck down 12 legislative districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
During the drawing of the districts in 2021, Alabamians had no access to potential maps during the “community input” process for redistricting. Political maps were drawn in secret. And at the 11th hour, legislative leaders presented and ultimately passed the racially gerrymandered maps.