Justice Dept. clears Ala.'s legislative districts
by Phillip Rawls
Associated Press
Oct 05, 2012 | 2378 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY (AP) — New legislative districts designed by Republicans for the first time in modern state history have been approved by the U.S. Justice Department for use in the 2014 elections.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez notified state Attorney General Luther Strange on Friday of the decision. The Justice Department has to review new political boundaries in Alabama and other Southern states to make sure they don't violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising black voters.

The co-chairman of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, Republican Rep. Jim McClendon of Springville, said the committee worked hard to maintain minority legislative districts and to make sure the new districts were fair to every racial group and area of the state.

This was the first time Republicans led the redistricting effort in the Legislature because they gained control of the House and Senate in the 2010 after 136 years of Democratic control.

The Legislature has to draw new districts after each census to reflect shifts in population. After the 2010 Census, many predominantly black districts had too few people and many suburban districts had too many. The Legislature had to get the districts nearly equal in population, and it did that in May.

Some Democrats complained that the new districts packed African-American voters into minority districts, making other districts more white than in the past, which would favor the election of Republicans. On Thursday, a white Democrat, Sen. Jerry Fielding of Sylacauga, switched to the Republican Party, but he said it was not because of Republican-leaning areas being added to his district.

The Legislative Black Caucus has a challenge of the new districts pending in federal court in Montgomery. The caucus chairman, Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, said the lawsuit raises different issues of racial discrimination than those reviewed by the Justice Department. "It does nothing to our lawsuit in Montgomery," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford of Russellville said he's confident that suit will result in the court ordering new districts.

Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said the Justice Department's approval shows the districts were drawn fairly and without a political agenda.

"The only political agenda that exists in this process is among those who would continue to fight this plan even after a Democrat-dominated Justice Department has determined it to be fair and equitable to all Alabamians," Hubbard said.

The Legislature drew new districts last year for Congress and the State Board of Education. Those also got Justice Department approval.

Democrats drew new legislative districts after the 2000 Census. Republicans complained the districts were designed to hurt the GOP and help Democrats, but the Justice Department cleared them for use. Several prominent Republicans challenged the districts in federal court and lost.

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