A Supreme Court of the United States ruling dealing with redistricting decided against the state of Alabama is "not a done deal yet" but was a surprise, according to former Reapportionment Committee chairman State Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville).
The Supreme Court of the United States upheld in a 5-4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday a lower court's ruling that Alabama will have to redraw a second largely or majority-black congressional district.
Alabama currently has one majority-black congressional district held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham).
The Supreme Court's decision sets up the prospect of the legislature convening for a special session later in the year to rewrite Alabama's Congressional district map.
"It'll go back I guess to the 11th Circuit and the case will continue," McClendon told 1819 News on Thursday. "There's not a done deal here yet, but it was kind of a surprise that it came down from that particular court. We were really hamstrung in drawing maps in that we couldn't take race into consideration and that was based on the law. The thing about this redistricting is every time that referee blows the whistle he can change the rules of the game and that's really what happened in this particular case. They decided that suddenly race is important and should be taken into consideration so you know it's danged if you do, danged if you don't."
McClendon said, "we've got to wait until the 11th Circuit hears this and I'm curious about the timeline of how quickly they'll act on this."
Redrawn Congressional district maps might also make Sewell's district more competitive.
"I think she has a minority (population) of about 55 and a fraction percent," McClendon said. "In order to get another Congressional district up higher to 50% it will probably come from her district so it's really a mixed bag. I saw on Twitter or somewhere where she said it was a great deal. If I'd have been her, I wouldn't have thought it was a great deal."
Sewell called the ruling "historic" on CNN on Thursday.
"I think it means that we'll have a more equitable map," Sewell said. "I mean, the reality is that African-Americans make up 27% of Alabama's population, and yet we only had one seat."
The ruling might also lead to all seven Congressional seats in Alabama being held by Republicans.
"The courts historically have never given a hard number for what it takes to make minorities to have a sufficient percent in a district in order to encourage a minority win," McClendon said. "They've never said you've got to have 55 or 60 or 70%...they just don't do that. When this happens, we could have two minority districts…now to what percentage do you raise it? Another question is: how much risk are you taking on ending up with seven Republican Congressional districts? Let's just theoretically say you could do 50/50… it's going to be a crap shoot on who walks away with that one."
McClendon told 1819 News, "the 11th Circuit will decide what action we take next so it's got to get back to them for them to figure out the next step in this legal process."
"Ultimately, somebody is going to have to draw some new maps perhaps unless Steve Marshall somehow gets it turned around in the 11th Circuit. I haven't talked to Steve so I don't know anything about that," McClendon said. "Ultimately, those maps have to be approved by the legislature so there will be a special (session) I'm certain. How quick it will come we don't know. We do know that we're going to have another election and it's a pretty compact time frame once again. It was a compact time frame last time because of the late Census results. That doesn't mean it can't be done. By any means, it can be done. Ultimately, the legislature will have to pass a bill. These redistricting maps go through just like any piece of legislation. It's got to be passed by the House, passed by the Senate, and signed by the Governor. There's not time to wait until next Spring. 2024 is upon us."
Reapportionment Chair and House Pro-Tempore Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) told 1819 New on Thursday there are still "many, many questions that need to be answered" about the ruling.
"It is still up in the air as my lawyers are still analyzing it," Pringle said. "It will be a major change to redistricting nationwide. It will affect every single member elected district in the United States."
In a statement to 1819 News on Thursday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall called the Supreme Court of the United States's decision "disappointing."
"Although the majority's decision is disappointing, this case is not over," Marshall said. "The Court made clear that its ruling was based only on the preliminary injunction record compiled in just a few weeks before the January 2022 district court ruling. The State is still entitled to put on our full case at trial, and we are confident that the evidence will make clear that voters in Alabama, regardless of their race, have the same opportunity as any other members of the electorate to participate in the State's political processes and elect representatives of their choice."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.
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