Witness testimony began Tuesday during a consolidated hearing involving challenges to the redistricting plan approved by the Alabama legislature in November. The plaintiffs are arguing for an alternate plan from the one approved by the state, which is set to be enacted on Jan. 28.

The hearing took place in the United States District Court, Northern District of Alabama, in Birmingham, before a three-judge panel composed of U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. District Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer.

The case is being heard in federal court because the plaintiffs are claiming a violation of the Voting Rights Act, legislation passed by the United States Congress, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the federal courts and not the Alabama state courts. John Merrill, in his capacity as Secretary of State of Alabama, is named as a defendant in both suits.

The lawsuit alleges that the congressional map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment by packing Black voters into the 7th Congressional District and dividing Black voters among three other districts. As relief, plaintiffs asked the court to invalidate the enacted congressional map and order a new map with instructions to include a second majority-Black district. 

Two plaintiffs in separate suits (Singleton, et.al v. Merrill & Milligan v. Merrill), State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), and Evan Milligan, Executive Director of Alabama Forward, testified Tuesday along with the plaintiff’s expert testimony from Dr. Natalie Davis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Birmingham-Southern College, and Dr. Kosuke Imai, Professor at Harvard University with dual appointments in the Department of Government and the Department of Statistics.

In his testimony, Singleton pushed the “whole county” plan, which pushes for counties not to be broken up, as well as the need for the Black Belt of Alabama to have more adequate representation.

“The Black Belt of Alabama is one of the poorest regions in the state. Lack of hospitals poor schools, lot of landmass, no taxable entities … we just need a voice to speak up for the Black Belt as a whole,” said Singleton.

Davis also advocated for the importance of the whole county approach. “For all practical purposes, you want to understand politics, you understand the county,” Davis said. “When you’re designing a plan, you go county by county and see what’s possible.

“You can look at redistricting in terms of outcomes, (as in) we want to have two Black members of congress, or you can look at it in terms of opportunity - we want a process that assures that Black voters have the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. The whole county plan does that.”

The afternoon concluded with the lengthy testimony and cross-examination of Dr. Imai, whose expertise is causal inference research. Imai was tasked with researching whether race played a role in the current redistricting process.

Dr. Imai runs simulations that set certain rules and then simulate the various possible outcomes within those rules.  For this case, he generated 10,000 simulations with different boundaries. From these simulations, he concluded that race did play a factor in redistricting.  Specifically, that a disproportionate number of Black voters were packed within District 7 while reducing the number in District 2. 

A decision would seem to be needed before Jan. 28, when Alabama’s Democrat and Republican parties end qualifying for the 2022 election cycle.

The hearing resumes Wednesday morning at the Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse in Birmingham. Look to 1819 News for continued coverage.