Alabama appears to defy Supreme Court with new congressional map

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Alabama appears to defy Supreme Court with new congressional map

It was early last month when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s congressional map was racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act. In a surprising victory for progressives, the justices ruled, 5 to 4, that the state’s Republican majority would have to redraw its district lines to include a second majority-Black congressional district.

GOP officials in the Yellowhammer State heard the high court, but they apparently didn’t much care for the directions. NBC News reported that Alabama Republicans approved a new map, but like the one that was struck down, it includes only one majority-Black district.

The GOP-controlled Legislature had called a special session to redraw an earlier map after the Supreme Court reaffirmed a federal court order to include two districts where Black voters make up voting-age majorities, “or something quite close to it.” But on Friday, state Republicans approved a new map with just one majority-Black seat and a second district that is approximately 40% Black.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey formally approved the new map on Friday night. In a written statement issued soon after, the governor said, “The Legislature knows our state, our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups, and I am pleased that they answered the call, remained focused and produced new districts ahead of the court deadline.”

In other words, as Ivey sees it, Alabama Republicans know their state better than Supreme Court justices, so they feel comfortable defying the justices’ ruling.

As it happens, they had some outside help and encouragement. In fact, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy acknowledged the fact that he’d been in contact with GOP officials in the state. One state legislator told local reporters that ahead of the vote on the new-but-not-improved map, Congress’ top Republican called to say, “I’m interested in keeping my majority.”

It’s quite a message. Sure, policymakers in Alabama could follow an order approved by the U.S. Supreme Court — a ruling backed by two Republican-appointed justices — but McCarthy’s majority is wafer thin; it might disappear next year; and he preferred that his partisan allies in the legislature prioritize his concerns over the justices’ concerns about radical discrimination under the Voting Rights Act.

Evidently, with Ivey’s written statement in mind, the GOP-led legislature “knows our state, our people, and our districts,” but so too does the congressman from California who works in Washington, D.C.

A federal court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the map in mid-August, and time will tell whether Alabama Republicans will have to try again. But stepping back, this isn’t just a story about a state with an indefensible past trying to discriminate against Black voters — again. It’s also not just about a desperate GOP leader on Capitol Hill trying to use his influence to protect his partisan interests.

What matters even more is the extent to which this is about a radical and dangerous mentality that says court rulings can be ignored. Watch this space.

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”

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