MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Federal judges on Monday blocked Alabama from using newly drawn congressional districts in upcoming elections, ruling that the state should have two districts -- instead of one -- in which Black voters are a sizeable portion of the electorate.
"Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the three-judge panel wrote in the 225-page ruling that found plaintiffs are "substantially likely" to prevail on claims that the current districts violate the Voting Rights Act.
"We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law," the ruling stated.
The judges blocked use of the map and stayed the candidate qualification deadline with political parties from Friday until Feb. 11 to allow the Legislature the opportunity to enact a remedial plan.
"As the Legislature considers such plans, it should be mindful of the practical reality, based on the ample evidence of intensely racially polarized voting adduced during the preliminary injunction proceedings, that any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it," the judges wrote.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office said the ruling will be appealed.
"The Attorney General's Office strongly disagrees with the court's decision and will be appealing in the coming days," spokesman Mike Lewis wrote in an email.
The Alabama attorney general's office did not immediately respond to an email late Monday seeking comment on the ruling.
Alabama's seven-member congressional delegation consists of six Republicans elected from heavily white districts and one Democrat elected from the only majority-Black district
The Alabama Legislature last year approved congressional district lines that maintain one majority-Black district. About 26% of Alabama's population is Black, and some lawmakers argued the state should have a second congressional district with a significant African-American population.
"It's past time for Alabama to move beyond its sordid history of racial discrimination at the polls, and to listen to and be responsive to the needs and concerns of voters of color. Not ensuring access to the ballot for all of the people and communities in Alabama is holding this state back from realizing its full potential," Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said in a statement.