Posted on November 8, 2019

Trial Begins in Alabama over Claims of Racially Gerrymandered Election Districts

Daniel Jackson, Courthouse News, November 4, 2019

Chief Judge Karon Bowdre wasted no time Monday. The pretrial briefs in the trial to determine whether Alabama’s 7th Congressional District was racially gerrymandered were excellent, she said, and she was familiar with the issues.

{snip} The plaintiffs contend the state Legislature packed black voters into the district and diluted other black votes by distributing them across three other districts.


Alabama redrew its congressional map in 2011 after the 2010 census. Among the seven congressional seats Alabama has in Washington, D.C., only one – the 7th District – is represented by a black lawmaker: Democrat Terri Sewell.

Under questioning by Perkins Coie attorney Bruce Spiva, Cooper said the state’s 2011 congressional redistricting map placed about a third of the black population of the state in the 7th District, and three districts – districts one, two and three – had black voting-age populations ranging between 24% to 28% of the districts’ overall populations.

The populations in those three districts, Cooper said, was a “clear example” of cracking – or breaking up – pockets of voters in order to break up their voting power.

Altogether, the black populations in districts one, two and three totaled more than 575,000 – which could almost make up an entire congressional district.

Alabama used 2010 census data to draw a seven-district map for the state’s Board of Education districts. Two of those districts are minority-majority districts.


Over the past few years, Cooper said, the number of minority voters in Alabama has risen from 1.08 million, or 26.74% in the 1990 census to 1.575 million or 32.96% in the 2010 census.

Cooper said that in the 2020 census, Alabama is set to lose a congressional seat and, even then, there are ways to draw the map so that two of the six districts could be majority-minority districts.


In the pretrial brief, the state argued that what the plaintiffs proposed was in and of itself racial gerrymandering.

“You put the majority of whites in district one, didn’t you?” Walker asked Cooper.

“Probably,” Cooper replied. He had testified that he considered several factors while drawing his four maps, attempting to lump together voters that had similar community interests, such as those that lived in the same county.

Walker also asked what kind of community interest Cooper was trying to preserve with his maps, specifically for the 1st District, which sits near Mobile.

It was the guidelines set forth by the state, Cooper replied: community interests, including racial, ethnic and historical similarities.

Walker’s questioning turned towards the lawmakers and politicians seeking to represent the 1st District, a district Cooper had drawn stretching from the southwestern end of the state to the eastern. Walker wanted to know how a politician would travel the district to meet voters, and he pulled out the [road]map.

He asked Cooper to use an orange highlighter and trace the route a politician would need to take to travel the length of the 1st District he drew.

“This might not be the Google Map route and I’m nervous so I’m shaking,” Cooper explained.

On redirect, Spiva asked Cooper if there were other long districts in Alabama. The 5th District stretched across the northern border of Alabama with Tennessee. It took about a three hour trip by car to traverse it, Cooper testified.


{snip} As a voter in the 7th District, Jones votes for Sewell, who wins handily.

When Sewell does have a challenger, she wins with a ratio of three or four to one.

“We have her to represent the black issues and she’s fighting by herself,” Jones said.

Having another representative in a majority-minority district would give a second voice to issues that matter to black voters, Jones said.