The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus’ Supreme Court Case was late last year, and focused on whether that state’s 2012 legislative redistricting plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Interestingly, there was a second question presented in the case at the district court level: “whether the 2012 redistricting plans allocate control of local delegations in a manner which violates Equal Protection, effectively denying county residents equal voting rights.”
This “second” question is actually an equal population challenge, and is based on the redistricting maps’ gratuitous breaching of county jurisdiction lines. In Alabama, it is local state legislative delegations that have most of the law-making power for a county as opposed to the county commissions themselves. The redistricting map features at least one county that contains portions of several legislative districts, many of them containing just small slivers of the county.
The legal claim of the plaintiffs is that the votes in some areas of the county weigh much more than in others:
“Jefferson County has a population of 658,466, a little less than the number needed for five Senate districts. Under the 2012 plan there are three Senate districts wholly within Jefferson County. The remaining 252,779 county residents, however, although in number only about the size of two additional districts, are divided among five other Senate districts; a large majority of the voters in each of those five districts actually live outside Jefferson County. All five of the Senators from those trans-county districts sit on the Jefferson County delegation. Thus the 405,687 residents of the three Jefferson-County-only Senate districts, although constituting 61% of the county population, elect only 37.5% (3/8) of the eight member Senate Jefferson County delegation that (together with the House Jefferson County delegation) effectively controls the local laws for Jefferson County.” View the Jefferson Co. Map.
In sum, a small minority of county residents (located in the “trans-county districts) are electing a majority of the all-powerful county delegation in the legislature. By contrast, nearly 61% of the county population elects a mere third of the delegation. It just so happens that the 61% are majority Black districts while the “trans-county” districts are majority white.
Originally, the Supreme Court did not take up the question after the lower court ruled that issue was not ripe at the time. The legislature’s local delegation system is created by rule each year and at the time of the lower court’s decision the rule had not been established. The attached brief follows the Alabama legislature’s adoption of the rule and the Supreme Court granted leave for the appellants in this case to submit this brief on this tantalizing second question.