U.S. Supreme Court won’t review portion of redistricting lawsuit

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Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, looks over proposed reapportionment maps at a meeting on May 10, 2012.   The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear part of a lawsuit against the redistricting that claimed the plan went too far in splitting counties. (Associated Press, Dave Martin)

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, looks over proposed reapportionment maps at a meeting on May 10, 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear part of a lawsuit against the redistricting that claimed the plan went too far in splitting counties. (Associated Press, Dave Martin)

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to review a portion of a Legislative Black Caucus lawsuit brought against the state’s redistricting plan alleging the state went too far in splitting counties under the proposal.

In a terse one-sentence notice, the justices dismissed the appeal of an August decision rejecting the argument for lack of jurisdiction. The high court’s decision does not mean the end of the lawsuit, or even the end of the appeals of the county issue. A panel of three federal judges is still considering arguments alleging that redistricting plan showed evidence of racial discrimination.

Both Alabama Solicitor General John Neiman and attorney James Blacksher, representing the plaintiffs, said Monday they believed the U.S. Supreme Court did not want to review the appeal while those claims are still pending.

“The court’s judgment was a very sensible one,” Neiman said. “It makes sense to decide the whole case at once rather than parcel it out into little pieces.”

The plaintiffs argued that the redistricting plan, approved after lengthy battles in the Alabama Legislature in May 2012 and approved by the U.S. Justice Department that October, created districts that spanned multiple counties. With the Alabama Legislature deciding most local legislation, the suit argued, unnecessarily splitting counties gave voters in County A a voice in the the affairs of County B, diluting the voting strength of residents of the latter.

Blacksher said the lawmakers who designed the map were in violation of one man, one vote principles.

“Even though it would be necessary to split some counties, they split three or four times as many counties as necessary to comply with the one person one vote requirement,” he said.

The state argued that the claim should be dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The three-judge panel agreed, saying the Black Caucus did not have standing. The majority opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and U.S. District Judge William Watkins found that the plaintiffs had not established a connection between the redistricting law and the local delegation system in the Legislature, and noted that districts created in 2002 did not meet the plaintiffs’ requirements, either. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson dissented.

The three-judge panel heard oral arguments on the racial discrimination claims in mid-August. A ruling on those claims has not yet been made. Blacksher said that if the court rejects those arguments, they would try to appeal the county issue to the U.S. Supreme Court again.

In the last round of redistricting, Montgomery County saw House District 73, represented by Democrat Joe Hubbard, moved to Shelby County, while portions of Democratic Rep. Thad McClammy’s seat were divided among districts currently represented by Democratic Reps. David Colston and Charles Newton, both of whom live outside Montgomery. The county retained its two Senate seats.

Democrats repeatedly accused Republicans of drawing the districts to drive white Democrats from office and limit the power of black Democrats. Republicans, however, said they had to make adjustments due to population shifts, including growth in Shelby County and significant losses in Montgomery seats currently represented by Democratic Reps. Alvin Holmes and John Knight.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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