Legislative lines stay intact in Alabama

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Staff Writer

Nov. 27, 2000 10 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court, on Monday, unanimously ordered the dismissal of a challenge to the Alabama state legislative districts, including Pike County’s senate district.

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In the case of Bennett v. Kelley, justices agreed with an argument presented in written briefs by Attorney General Bill Pryor that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. The order of the Supreme Court came without the need for oral arguments.

Legislative districts being challenged, included that of Sen. Wendell Mitchell, who represents Pike, Autauga, Crenshaw, Butler and parts of Dale and Lowndes counties.

Mitchell said he was "pleased" the nation’s highest court took the action it did.

"For now, there is no threat to my political district," Mitchell said, adding the ruling opens the opportunity for the Alabama Legislature to make any changes.

The seven legislative districts in question were drawn by an order of the Montgomery Circuit Court in 1993 after the Alabama Legislature failed to agree on a districting plan.

However, the challenges were not filed until 1997, making it too late for anything to be done before the 2000 census.

Mitchell doesn’t expect his district will change all that much, even after the census results are taken into consideration.

"I would predict the slightest modifications," Mitchell said.

The 1998 legislative elections, which were the last that would have been affected by the district lines, had already taken place before the case was brought to trial in January 2000.

Based on the 2000 census, new district lines will be drawn in 2001 before the legislative elections in 2002.

According to Pryor, population changes, changes in legislative leadership and subsequent court rulings would make the new districts different than those created in 1993.

Although Pryor agrees redistricting is "an important matter," he said it is one that should be addressed by the Legislature after the census results are released.

"Redistricting also must conform to the U.S. Constitution, which requires one person-one vote and forbids racial gerrymandering, but these issues cannot be evaluated until the Legislature has been given the opportunity to satisfy these requirements."

Pryor said the court’s ruling is important because "it frees the state of Alabama from improper restraints imposed by the lower court that are no longer relevant under the current conditions and laws."

"The plaintiffs did not have standing to sue and, by the time they filed suit, it was too late for any appropriate remedy," Pryor said. "Even if there had been a problem with the districts drawn in 1993, by the time plaintiffs filed suit late in 1997 and the district court ruled in 2000, all elections that had used these district lines were long over and new districts are soon due to be drawn."

Plaintiffs who filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama were residents of majority white districts who opposed their neighboring minority districts. After trial before a three-judge panel, the district court declared seven of the legislative districts unconstitutional and ordered the state not to hold any more elections using those district lines.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday found that because the plaintiffs did not reside in the minority districts which they challenged, they had not shown they were personally denied equal treatment and did not have the standing to sue.

The other districts under challenge were: Senate Districts 21, 25, 29 and House Districts 63, 75 and 86.