Alabama Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Wesch v. Hunt785 F. Supp. 1491 (S.D. Ala. 1992), aff'd sub nom. Camp v. Wesch, 507 U.S. 902 (1992)(mem.); refusal to modify plan aff'd sub nom. Figures v. Hunt, 507 U.S. 901 (1993) (mem)

The district court declared unconstitutional an Alabama statute defining existing congressional districts based upon 1990 census information and following the Legislature's failure to adopt and preclear a plan in time for the 1992 elections.  The court adopted (with minor court modifications) one of six plans submitted by the parties, which the court determined to best satisfy the required considerations for redistricting plans and that best achieved population equality.  The court specifically noted that the criteria for any redistricting plan must consider "compactness/contiguity; preservation of political subdivisions; maintenance of communities of interest; and preservation of the core areas of existing districts." 785 F. Supp. at 1498.   The court noted the Legislature's opportunity to adopt a plan and that the court's intervention was due only to the Legislature's failure to timely perform a fundamental state task.  The court further noted a report, not in evidence, that at the time of the opinion, the Legislature had adopted a plan that had not been precleared.  The court determined that it was without legal authority to consider the Legislature's belatedly adopted plan and if that plan complied with constitutional requirements, to adopt that plan as the court's plan.  The court held, however, that if the Legislature's plan was expedited and timely precleared, then the Legislature's plan, rather than the court decreed plan should take effect.  The court enjoined the defendants (state officials with significant duties in the administration of congressional elections in Alabama) from conducting congressional elections under the existing unconstitutional districting plan and from failing to conduct the 1992 congressional elections in accordance with the court plan if the legislative plan was not timely enacted and precleared to proceed without delay.  The court further ordered that the court ordered redistricting plan remain in effect until the Alabama Legislature replaced it with a valid plan.

Wesch v. Hunt, No. 91-0787, 1993 WL 468747 (S.D. Ala. July 13, 1993), aff'd sub nom. Wesch v. Folsom, 6 F.3d 1465 (11th Cir. 1993), cert. denied sub nom. Sinkfield v. Wesch, 510 U.S. 1046 (1994)

Wesch filed to stay the proceedings in a state-court matter (Sinkfield v. Camp, Civil Action No. 93-689, Cir. Ct. Montgomery County) to the extent that such proceedings involved claims related to congressional redistricting previously litigated.  The district court, in an opinion released July 13, 1993, and not reported, granted Wesch's motion, enjoining prosecution of the state court action seeking redistricting.  A primary contention of Wesch was to enforce the injunction entered on March 9, 1992, in Wesch v. Hunt, 785 F. Supp. 1491 (S.D. Ala. 1992).  Subsequently, on July 21, 1993, (1993 WL 468669) the district court denied a motion to stay the injunction pending appeal filed by the Sinkfield/Intervenor-plaintiffs.  The court expressly noted that the three-judge decision (and the court ordered redistricting plan) in Wesch v. Hunt, 785 F. Supp. 1491 (S.D. Ala. 1992) had been resolved by the United States Supreme Court in two separate appeals, each favorable to the district court's decision.  The court noted that the primary purpose of the injunction issued on July 13, 1993, was "to halt needless and repetitive litigation in state court of an issue, which has been already settled in a federal court."  The court expressly noted that the congressional elections scheduled for 1994 were not in danger of being conducted under an unconstitutional plan and that no harm would result from conducting further elections under a plan held valid by the Supreme Court.  Noting the delicate balance between the federal and state judicial systems, the appeal was affirmed in a published opinion, see Wesch v. Folsom, 6 F.3d 1465 (11th Cir. 1993), and the Supreme Court denied certiorari without publishing an opinion.

Hunt v. Morris591 So. 2d 83 (1992), appeal dismissed and remanded to trial ct. 628 So. 2d 1080 (1992).

In December 1991, the Barbour County Circuit Court ordered the Governor to issue a call to the State Legislature to convene in special session for the purpose of considering congressional redistricting.  In January 1992, in a per curiam decision without citing authority or reasoning, the Alabama Supreme Court granted a motion to stay that order pending appeal.  In a special concurrence,  Justice Houston indicated that this appeal called upon the court to determine whether the judiciary had the power to direct the Governor to call a special session.  He further voiced that probably no one in the State judiciary had that power.  In March 1992, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and remanded it to the trial court without issuing an opinion.

Brooks v. Hobbie631 So. 2d 883 (Ala. 1993)

The U. S. District Court, Middle District of Alabama, certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court substantially as follows:  Does the Montgomery County Circuit Court have subject matter jurisdiction to enter tentative and final implementing orders for a redistricting plan?  The Alabama Supreme Court responded affirmatively by first  recognizing that apportionment is primarily a legislative function and that the true question was whether the redistricting issue is a justiciable one. Stating that the Constitution required judicial intervention to ensure constitutional protections of every citizen and that when a court invalidated an apportionment statute, it could not be left without the means to order appropriate relief, the Court held that the circuit court had jurisdiction to order a redistricting plan.  The Court further noted that the judiciary must act when other branches of government are remiss in their constitutional duties.

Peters v. FolsomNo. 93-T-124-N (M.D.Ala); Brooks v. CampNo. 93-T-364-N (M.D.Ala)

In these consolidated cases, the plaintiffs alleged that the legislative district lines violated their constitutional rights by violating the one person, one vote principle and discriminating against Black voters.  The proceedings were stayed on the ground that the legislative process had not run its course.

During the stay, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Growe v. Emison, 507 S. Ct. 25 (1993) reaffirming the principle that federal courts should defer to state courts regarding apportionment of state legislative districts where the State (via legislature or judiciary) had begun to address the task itself.  Arguing that the federal court should not defer because the Alabama state courts lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to redistrict or reapportion the State Legislature, the Peters plaintiffs argued that the federal court should independently reach their claims.  The federal court certified the question regarding jurisdiction to the Alabama Supreme Court, which held that the state circuit court had jurisdiction to enter its orders.  These cases were dismissed and the motion of the Peters plaintiffs for attorneys' fees and expenses was denied.

Sinkfield v. BennettNo. CV-93-689-PR (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Co., Aug. 13, 1993)

The Montgomery County Circuit Court entered a Consent Decree between the Sinkfield parties and the Secretary of State approving a redistricting plan for the Alabama Legislature. The plan was precleared by the U. S. Attorney General.  The court retained jurisdiction until an acceptable redistricting plan might be enacted by the Legislature.

Sinkfield v. Bennett, No. CV-93-689-PR (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Co., Nov. 20, 1997)

In 1997, pursuant to a federal district court direction, see Rice v. Smith, 988 F. Supp. 1437 (M.D. Ala. 1997), John Rice and Camilla Rice filed as intervenors in this action on issues regarding the Consent Decree Plan from 1993.  The Rice contentions were that under the Plan, underpopulation in one district violated the one-person, one-vote right; that the Plan contained districts that were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders under the line of cases from Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993); and that several districts were designed to intentionally overpopulate majority White districts, thus, diluting their voting strength.

The court held that the intervenors could not prevail on the equal protection claim by finding that there was no evidence that an underpopulation in one district, resulting in a 10.2 percent total deviation, caused any injury given other factors, i.e., that the district was limited to one entire county and that it was the only district in the Plan that exceeded a five-percent deviation.  The court limited the racial gerrymander claim to the districts where the intervenors resided and found that race, while a factor, was not a main or predominant factor that subordinated traditional, race-neutral districting principles.  Lastly, the court held that the districts were within constitutionally permissible limits by finding that the deviation in one district was justified and that there was no evidence of dilution of voting strength.

Rice v. Sinkfield, No. 1970449, 732 So.2d 993 (Ala.1998) (per curiam)

The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the Rice intervenors in Sinkfield v. Bennet, No. CV-93-689-PR, as moot. The court reasoned that, because the next legislative election was scheduled for the year 2002, and because by that time, the report of the 2000 federal census was scheduled to be released, the elections held in 2002 and subsequent years would be governed not by the current consent judgment, but by a new districting plan that was based on the 2000 federal census.

Rice v. Smith, 988 F. Supp. 1437 (M.D. Ala., Dec. 19, 1997) (three-judge court)

Two White plaintiffs, John and Camilla Rice, challenged the legislative redistricting plan adopted by an Alabama state court in Sinkfield v. Bennett, No. CV-93-689-PR (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Co., Aug. 13, 1993), on grounds that it violated the principle of one person, one vote, that it was a racial gerrymander, and that it diluted White voting strength. The federal district court directed the Rice plaintiffs to intervene in the state-court lawsuit, Sinkfield v. Bennett, No. CV-93-689-PR (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Co.). They did so, and the state court dismissed their claims on the merits. See Sinkfield v. Bennett, No. CV-93-689-PR (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Co., Nov. 20, 1997), aff’d, Rice v. Sinkfield, No. 1970449, 732 So.2d 993 (Ala.1998) (per curiam). While their appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court was pending, the Rice plaintiffs returned to federal district court, which dismissed their complaint without prejudice on the basis of res judicata and the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine.

Thompson v. Smith, 52 F. Supp.2d 1364 (M.D. Ala. 1999)

After moving to intervene in the state-court lawsuit, Sinkfield v. Bennet, the plaintiffs in Rice v. Smith moved to add to their federal-court lawsuit several White voters who resided in legislative districts other than the district in which the Rice plaintiffs resided. The federal district court then invited the Thompson plaintiffs to also intervene in the state-court lawsuit, but they refused. After the Rice complaints had been dismissed in both the state and federal courts, the federal court ruled that, since the state court had found their claims to be moot under state law, the Thompson plaintiffs were entitled to pursue their claims in federal court. On the merits, the court ruled that the Thompson plaintiffs’ claims of unequal population and vote dilution were barred by res judicata, since they were no different from the claims made by the Rice plaintiffs in state court. The court further ruled that the claim of Andrew Thompson that the senate and house districts in which he resided were racial gerrymanders was also barred by res judicata, since those districts had been attacked for the same reason by the Rice plaintiffs in state court. But the court ruled that the other Thompson plaintiffs, who resided in senate and house districts other than the ones in which the Rice plaintiffs resided, were entitled to pursue their racial gerrymander claims in federal court. The court scheduled their claims for trial.

Kelley v. Bennett, 96 F. Supp.2d 1301 (M.D. Ala. 2000), vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss 531 U.S. 28 (Nov. 27, 2000) (No. 00-132, 00-133)

After a trial involving the districts challenged by the other Thompson plaintiffs, voters who resided in majority-White districts adjacent to majority-Black districts, the district court ruled on April 24, 2000, that four state senate districts and three state house districts were racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The court found it was too late in the election cycle and too burdensome to require the Alabama Legislature to redraw the districts and schedule a special legislative election in 2000, but enjoined their use in the 2002 regular election, or in any special election that might occur before then without further order of the court.

Sinkfield v. Kelley, 531 U.S. 28 (Nov. 27, 2000) (No. 00-132, 00-133)

The districts for Alabama’s Legislature had been drawn with an “acknowledged purpose [of] maximiz[ing] . . . the number of majority-minority districts.” 531 U.S. at 28. The plaintiffs, white voters who resided in majority-white districts that neighbored majority-minority districts, alleged that their (majority-white) districts were the product of racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Relying on United States v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737 (1995), the Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing in that “they have neither alleged nor produced any evidence that any of them was assigned to his or her district as a direct result of having ‘personally been subjected to a racial classification.’” 531 U.S. at 30, quoting Hays, 515 U.S. at 745. The Court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the cases with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

State Contact

Bonnie Shanholtzer
Director of Reapportionment
Senate Secretary's Office
11 South Union, Room 707
Montgomery, AL 36130-4600
334/242-7941 voice
334/242-8819 fax

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Update: October 1, 2008 (psw)