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Supreme Court to hear Alabama redistricting challenge

The Supreme Court said Monday it will consider a challenge from Alabama Democrats who say a Republican-drawn legislative map intentionally packs black Democrats into a few voting districts, giving them too little influence in the Legislature.

The justices agreed to hear a pair of appeals from the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and other Democratic lawmakers who contend the new map created in 2012 illegally limits black voting strength and makes it harder to elect Democrats outside the majority-black districts.

A panel of three federal judges had ruled 2-1 last year that the new districts were not discriminatory and did not violate the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.

The Legislature had to redraw political boundaries to reflect population shifts in the 2010 Census. Alabama Republican Attorney General Luther Strange has said the new legislative districts are consistent with federal law.

Democrats contend the new districts were gerrymandered to dilute black voting strength. Despite demographic shifts, they say the map contains the same number of districts with majority black populations that were in a legislative redistricting plan produced a decade ago, when Democrats still controlled the Legislature. The plan has eight of the 35 Senate districts and 28 of the 105 House districts with a majority of black residents.

The three-judge panel rejected the claim about diluting black voter strength. In the majority decision, U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor wrote that "the overwhelming evidence in the record suggests that black voters will have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process the same as everyone else." He was joined by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins.

The lone black judge on the panel, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, dissented.

Alabama Republicans had similarly challenged the districts drawn by the Legislature's then-Democratic majority after the 2000 Census, but they also lost. Republicans gained control of the Legislature in the 2010 election.

The cases are Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. State of Alabama, 13-895, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, 13-1138.