Plaintiffs continued offering their expert witnesses in the Alabama redistricting hearings before a three-judge panel at the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse in Birmingham on Monday.

Due to the rise in COVID cases, these hearings are being held via teleconference.

During the 2021 session, the Alabama legislature passed an updated map of congressional and state districts. Redistricting is the process of enacting new congressional and state legislative district boundaries and occurs every 10 years based on the results of the most current U.S. Census. The new map is set to take effect on Jan. 28. 

The hearings center around two particular claims brought by a number of different plaintiffs and consolidated to three named cases, Caster v. Merrill, Millington v. Merrill, and Singleton v. Merrill. The two issues being considered are the “whole county” plan, favored by State Senate Minority Leader Singleton (the named plaintiff), and an alleged violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Redistricting issues have received increased attention in recent years and created a new strategic front for the major parties to challenge.

As recently as 2019, Chief Judge (now Senior Judge) Karon Bowdre presided over a similar redistricting case. Judge Bowdre’s opinion gave deference to the legislature and ruled it was not the place for the judiciary to intervene based on the claims as they were presented. (Chestnut v. Merrill)

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stanley Marcus has demonstrated exceeding patience in his role presiding over these hearings. He is joined on the bench by U.S. District Court Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer. 

Throughout the first week, the plaintiffs offered a variety of expert witnesses who had submitted reports supporting their cases. All of the experts had been tasked with examining race as a factor in the creation of these districts. 

After nearly a week of expert testimony featuring academics from across the country, Monday’s proceedings ended with one of the plaintiffs appearing before the panel.

Benjamin Jones is the CEO of Montgomery Community Action Agency, a non-profit advocacy and service group. Jones was asked directly what he hoped to accomplish with this lawsuit.

“I would like to see a candidate who at least has an opportunity to represent the interests of the Black community,” Jones said. “We have a higher rate of uneducated individuals, persons in need of health care, affordable housing, and a higher rate in prison. Our population in the state is about 27%, our population in prison is over 50%.”

However, on cross-examination, Jones expanded on his thoughts when asked what kind of representative would represent the interests of the Black community.

“One that would vote for the Build Back Better plan, the Bi-Partisan Infrastructure Plan, expansion of Medicare,” said Jones.

On further questioning as to what kind of elected official might best represent the interests of Black Alabamians, Jones acknowledged that person could be Black or White, Democrat or Republican. 

Defense counsel will be offering their expert witnesses Tuesday, with closing arguments scheduled to begin Wednesday. Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour will be delivering the closing arguments on behalf of the State. It was not immediately clear from Monday’s hearing which attorneys will deliver closing arguments for the various plaintiffs.   

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