Merrill v. Milligan: Alabama Racial Gerrymandering Lawsuit

Date Filed: 11/15/2021

Milligan v. Merrill

Challenging Alabama's discriminatory redistricting maps

Alabama voters, civil rights groups, and faith groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s newly drawn political maps for state legislative and congressional districtsMilligan v. Merrill was brought on behalf of Evan Milligan, Khadidah Stone, Letetia Jackson, Shalela Dowdy, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.

The lawsuit charges that the congressional redistricting map drawn by the state legislature denies Black residents equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of choice. The congressional map intentionally “packs” and “cracks” Black communities in the state, thereby diluting their voting power. The lawsuit describes how Alabama’s new district maps violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The case is now before the Supreme Court and will be argued by LDF attorneys this October.

In January 2022, a federal court struck down the maps. The unanimous decision halted the implementation of the maps and ordered the state Legislature to draft a new congressional map that complies with the Voting Rights Act.Despite the district court ruling ordering new maps to be drawn, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Alabama’s bid to block the state from having to redraw its maps. The Supreme Court’s action temporarily blocks the ruling from taking effect as the case is litigated and leaves the current, discriminatory maps in place. Chief Justice Roberts dissented from the stay, as did Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer. The maps remain in place.

Discriminatory redistricting policies and maps are directly linked Alabama's historical and present racial discrimination against Black people. 

For decades, Alabama has used discriminatory redistricting policies that dilute the voting power of Black Alabamians and prevent them from electing candidates of their choice. The maps drawn for the 2021 redistricting cycle are part of the “sordid record” of Alabama’s white majority using racial discrimination to retain power.

In five of the six redistricting cycles since 1960, the U.S. Department of Justice or federal courts have found that Alabama’s legislative districts — congressional, state, or both — violate the rights of voters under the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

Throughout the 2021 redistricting cycle, Black Alabamians have publicly called on the legislature to ensure maps are drawn fairly and do not dilute Black voting strength. Again, in this latest round of drawing political districts, Alabamians had no access to potential maps during the so-called “community input” process. Legislative leaders drew political maps in secret, and at the 11th hour, presented the maps challenged today that use race as a predominant factor in determining district lines  — but not in a way tailored to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The maps drawn during the current redistricting cycle will shape the allocation of political power and representation at every level of government for years to come.

New political maps are drawn as part of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process triggered by census data. Redistricting is the process of redrawing district maps that shape legislative, congressional, and political power. These maps determine where you can vote

Redistricting encompasses the process by which states and the jurisdictions within them redraw the district maps that shape legislative, congressional, and local power. Where district lines are drawn can determine where residents can vote, whom they can vote for, and even how responsive elected officials are to constituents’ requests and how resources are allocated.

“Cracking” refers to splitting communities of color into different districts to prevent them from exercising greater political power. “Packing” refers to placing people of color into the same district in greater numbers than necessary to elect candidates of choice to prevent them from exercising greater political power in surrounding districts.

Power on the Line(s): Making Redistricting Work for Us

LDF and parters created a guide guide to familiarize you with what redistricting is all about, and learn how you can make sure your voice is heard in the redistricting process.

LDF's Redistricting Work State by State

LDF has been closely monitoring the redistricting process in key states, including Alabama, to ensure map's are drawn fairly. We've compiled our work by state here.

The 2021 redistricting cycle is the first without the preclearance protections of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in place to protect against discriminatory redistricting.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder effectively dismantled Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the pre-approval process that required states with histories of racial discrimination in redistricting to seek approval from the federal government before implementing plans. The absence of the federal preclearance process is a major detriment to voters of color.