Changes looming for local Senate district

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Staff Writer

April 25, 2000 10 PM

Pike County’s Alabama Senate district could change before the 2002 election.

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The district represented by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, was one of seven districts found to be unconstitutional by a federal court panel.

On Monday, U.S. Chief District Judge Harold Albritton and Circuit Judge Emmett Cox voted in the majority with U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson dissenting. Although the panel voted 2-1 to call the districts unconstitutional because of racial lines, the judges said there will be no special elections before the regularly scheduled legislation elections in 2002.

The decision stated race can not be a "predominant" factor when drawing legislative district lines.

However, the judges also refused to block the Legislature from using the current district plan. That plan, which was developed by black political leader Joe Reed and approved by the state courts in 1993, can serve as a starting point in drawing the district lines after the 2000 Census.

In addition to Mitchell, the other legislators’ whose districts must be redrawn are Sens. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery; Phil Poole, D-Moundville; Harri Ann Smith, R-Slocomb and Reps. Joe Carothers, D-Dothan; Tim Parker, R-Tuscaloosa and Greg Wren, R-Montgomery.

Mitchell could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The judges dismissed challenges against the districts represented by Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy and Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile.

Each of the challenged districts is represented by a white legislator, but Reed has said he believes the lawsuit was a way to challenge neighboring districts represented by black lawmakers.

The lawsuit was filed by Montgomery attorney Mark Montiel, who claimed nine legislative districts in central and south Alabama were unconstitutionally designed to put blacks in some districts and whites in others. In his argument, Montiel stated the districts, which are oddly shaped, do not follow any tradional boundaries like neighborhoods, city or county lines.

"I think the clear message it sends to local Alabama citizens is to look at their districts," Montiel told the Associated Press. "I hope those persons challenge them in federal court."

Pleased with the judges’ decision, Montiel said it "sends a clear message."

Assistant Attorney General Jack Park has argued Montiel hasn’t proven the districts involve racial gerrymandering.