Once-powerful Democrats are challenging legislative districts drawn by Alabama Republicans that have helped shrink Democratic representation to just eight seats in the state Senate - all of them from districts in which African-Americans are a majority.
Black Democrats say the GOP did it by misusing a landmark voting-rights law, intended to ensure the right to vote for southern blacks, to instead limit their voting strength. They argue that Republicans relied too heavily on race to draw new electoral maps following the 2010 census.
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments Nov. 12 on lawsuits challenging how Alabama's legislative districts are designed.
The suits were brought by the Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference. They are arguing that the Legislature drew districts that packed black voters into overwhelmingly black districts and diminished their influence in other districts. The two groups appealed to the Supreme Court after losing at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A panel of three federal judges has upheld Alabama's new legislative districts.
The judges split 2-to-1 in a decision Friday that said the new districts are not discriminatory and do not violate the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.
The Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference had sued over the districts, which were designed by the Legislature's Republican majority. State Attorney General Luther Strange, who defended the new districts in court, says he's pleased the judges found the districts consistent with federal law.
A state senator who was in charge of a committee that drew Alabama's senate districts has denied that the process was intended to create more Republican districts.
Republican Sen. Gerald Dial of Lineville testified in federal court Thursday that his only goals going into the redistricting process were to prevent incumbents from facing each other, to avoid reducing the percentage of minorities in majority black districts, and to protect communities of interest.
The U.S. Justice Department has cleared Alabama's new legislative districts for use in the 2014 elections.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez notified state Attorney General Luther Strange of the decision Friday. The Justice Department has to review new political boundaries in Alabama to make sure they don't violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising black voters.
The Alabama Legislature's black caucus has filed a lawsuit against the plan passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate to redraw lawmakers' districts.
The Legislature's 33 black members claim the redistricting plan approved by lawmakers earlier this year is racial gerrymandering and reduces the voting influence of blacks by packing black residents into as few districts as possible. The lawsuit was filed Friday morning in federal district court in Montgomery.
Democrats in the Alabama House have decided to fight new legislative districts in Washington rather than in the state.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford of Gadsden said House Democrats have consulted with their attorneys and decided not to challenge the districts in state court. Instead, they will take their battle to the U.S. Justice Department. The Voting Rights Act requires the Justice Department to approve the new districts before they can be used in the legislative elections in 2014.