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Judges strike down another Alabama congressional map over Voting Rights Act violation

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Alabama's congressional map is once again going back to the drawing board after a panel of three federal judges struck down the state government's latest congressional districting plan. This was a revised map Alabama was ordered to draw after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a previous version as a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act in June. Neither version of the map had more than one congressional district with a majority-Black population in a state that has seven districts and where the population is over one-quarter Black. Evan Milligan is the lead plaintiff in the initial legal challenge to Alabama's maps. He is also the executive director of the civic engagement coalition Alabama Forward. He joins us now from Montgomery. Evan Milligan, welcome.

EVAN MILLIGAN: Hi, Juana. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So this is the second time a map that Alabama has produced has been struck down by judges. What's your reaction to this ruling?

MILLIGAN: Well, we're encouraged. This is a ruling that, you know, is a victory in many ways and not one just shared by the plaintiffs in the case only. But, you know, it extends to our wider coalition on the date of the hearing. On August 14, a few weeks ago, the courtroom was packed with people wearing shirts featuring the map that we actually presented and folks from our coalition at Alabama Forward and beyond, so much so that they actually were almost going to have to open a second overflow room. So the support and, you know, the people who've been entering this conversation and learning about it - it's really been encouraging. I hope that we're able to resolve this, you know, well in advance of the October deadline, but we'll see how things play out.

SUMMERS: Evan, the state of Alabama has said that it's preparing to appeal today's ruling to the Supreme Court. How might this play out from your perspective?

MILLIGAN: We think that, you know, there's obviously a chance that the Supreme Court could take interest in the case again and sort of revisiting some of the issues that the state of Alabama hopes that they take on. I'm more doubtful of that. I think that when we read this opinion from the federal panel and they're using words like deeply disturbed - when they're using words that really express, in emotional language, how confused they are by the fact that they gave an order that was clear, that was affirmed by the Supreme Court, and the state of Alabama communicates that they understood the order, but that they just had no interest in complying with it - I think that puts the Supreme Court in an interesting position, should they even want to actually revisit this issue. And I don't know that they would want to affirm or embolden this sort of - a state legislature's resistance to complying with a very clear federal court order.

SUMMERS: Right. I just want to put this into some human terms for folks today. This delay and this continued litigation - what does it mean for Black voters in your state as election season draws closer? 2024 is just around the corner.

MILLIGAN: This means that, you know, right now, we're going through - what is this? - year two under an illegal map. The court that issued the ruling today - they actually held that this map was unconstitutional back in February of last year. And so then, you know, we litigated up to the Supreme Court. They issued their ruling in June of this year. So we're still under this map, and that means that the rights of Black Alabamians here in the state - and Alabamians as a whole because when Black Alabamians' voting rights are violated, that violates everyone living here. And that's a concept that we really need to do a better job of embracing as a community in our state.

It played out in a very interesting way during the special session leading up to the adoption of this map. There were members of the conservative majority who felt shut out by the process and felt that their interests weren't even taken into consideration due to the leadership of a smaller number of people in their own party. So when we're advocating for freedom, for, you know, protection of minority voices, protection of dissenters, equity, this is something that extends to all Alabamians and makes us all safer and able to play a more viable role in our political process.

SUMMERS: Evan Milligan, the executive director of Alabama Forward and lead plaintiff in the initial challenge to Alabama's congressional maps.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kira Wakeam
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.