U.S. court rejects Alabama redistricting as violating Black voting rights

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Jan 24 (Reuters) - A U.S. court rejected on Monday the Alabama legislature's redrawn U.S. congressional district map for November elections, saying it likely violated the Voting Rights Act and stood to deny Black voters an additional representative.

The ruling, which can be appealed, addresses an issue of contention between the two major political parties, in which Democrats accuse Republicans of exploiting their relative strength in state legislatures to diminish Black voting power.

U.S. states must redraw congressional lines once a decade to reflect shifts in population. In most states, lawmakers control redistricting, which can lead to one party manipulating district lines to entrench its power.

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In Alabama, African Americans make up 27% of the population, but ethnic minorities have a majority of voters in only one of the state's seven congressional districts. That district, concentrated around the city of Birmingham, is held by the Democratic Party and the other six by Republicans.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama found that the Republican-dominated state legislature should have drawn the district lines to give minorities a majority in a second district, or at least a better chance of competing.

"The appropriate remedy is a congressional redistricting plan that includes either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice," the judges said in a 225-page ruling.

The court postponed an upcoming candidate qualification deadline until Feb. 11 to give the legislature time to redraw the lines.

Control of the closely divided U.S. House of Representatives will be at stake in the Nov. 8 elections.

Many Democrats have complained Republicans use redistricting and voter access laws to suppress Black voters, as African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Republicans contend restrictive voter access laws are meant to prevent fraud.

In New York state, where Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office, it is the Republicans who accuse the Democrats of unfairness.

New York's bipartisan redistricting commission has failed to reach consensus on a new congressional map, ensuring that the state's Democratic lawmakers will redraw district lines.

Republican commissioners said the Democrats deliberately refused to negotiate ahead of Tuesday's deadline "so that the determination of district lines would be tossed back to a legislature controlled by Democrat super-majorities."

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Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Joseph Ax; Editing by Mark Porter, Robert Birsel

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