The law requires that after each U.S. Census, redistricting take place so changes in population are reflected in state legislatures. However, for years Alabama’s rural legislators were able to prevent the law from being carried out to its fullest for fear they would lose seats to the state’s growing cities.
In the 1960s, U.S. Supreme Court decisions forced state legislatures to redistrict based on the concept of “one man, one vote,” a ruling that was complicated by later court and Justice Department orders that minority representation not be diluted. The result has been some interestingly drawn districts and representation scattered across the landscape.
In Alabama, the rise of the Republican Party added a new ingredient to the mix, for now (as other, two-party states already knew) redistricting can have a significant impact on which political party controls the Legislature. So it follows that any redistricting effort is full of possibilities and fraught with dangers.
Alabama’s Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, like the Legislature, is dominated by Republicans, and while the GOP does not want to be charged with political favoritism, it also wants to be sure that its interests are not compromised. The Democrats on the committee are playing a watchdog role, making sure they get the best deal they can.
All of which is to say that redistricting is no easy matter and no one should envy the committee its task.
The tentative plan that has emerged seems dedicated to keeping controversy at a minimum. Of particular importance is the fact that the number of majority-black districts would increase from 27 to 28. However, the plan increases representation in Madison and Shelby counties and decreases it in Jefferson and Montgomery counties. Although population gains and losses seem to justify this, the fact that Democrats represent the districts being lost cannot help but raise charges of gerrymandering for political gain.
Already one of the representatives who will lose his district is threatening to sue.
The chairman of the redistricting committee has stressed that its plan is only a proposal. The details will be worked out in the special session that starts next week.
We hope that happens and that the plan does not wind up in court. Alabama does not need, and cannot afford, a long and expensive trial that could well result in judges doing what should be done by the Legislature.