MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama's attorney general filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a federal court to approve a redistricting plan for his Legislature without requiring the plan to go through the U.S. Justice Department for approval to make sure it doesn't discriminate against minority voters.
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment from a three-judge panel of U.S. District Court in Washington finding that the plan approved by the Alabama Legislature during a special session in May does not deny or abridge the right to vote based on race or color.
Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Attorney General's office, said the state has the option of seeking pre-clearance from the Justice Department or asking for a three-judge panel to do it. She said the attorney general's office filed a similar suit last year for its new Congressional and state school board districts. But the Justice Department ended up preclearing those districts anyway.
Alabama and several other Southern states or counties need federal approval for election changes under the 1965 Voting Rights Act because of their histories of voter discrimination.
Thursday's lawsuit from Alabama also takes aim at that requirement: If the court doesn't grant a declaratory judgment, Alabama argues it should find the preclearance provision and its 2006 amendments unconstitutional.
Patterson said the Alabama attorney general's office has for years taken the position in legal filings that the section of the Voting Rights Act requiring preclearance in unconstitutional.
Staff in the attorney general's office declined further comment. Attorney General Luther Strange could not be reached for comment.
Democrats in the Legislature have complained that the plan passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature was written to favor Republicans and packed black voters in some districts while leaving them with little influence in other districts.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said the attorney general's office wants to avoid the justice department's preclearance process because the Legislature "passed a racially gerrymandered plan."
"It's a ridiculous waste of taxpayer's money," Bedford said of the lawsuit. He said Republicans are trying to circumvent the way voting changes have been approved in Alabama for the last 40 years.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford said he believes Republicans want to avoid going to the Justice Department because they are "ashamed of the way they drew the lines."
The state also seeks an injunction preventing Attorney General Eric Holder from enforcing the preclearance provision.
The chairman of the Legislature's redistricting committee Rep. Jim McClendon of Springville said it was up to the attorney general's office and not the Legislature to decide which method to use in seeking preclearance.
Associated Press Writer Frederic J. Frommer in Washington contributed to this report.