Alabama rejects vax mandates, approves controversial voting maps in special session
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
After a brief but eventful legislative special session in Alabama, the state now has new laws opposing President Joe Biden's federal vaccine mandate as well as a refreshed map of voting districts. Already, both are generating controversy.
Senate Bills 9 and 15, aimed at pushing back against what Governor Kay Ivey calls the federal government's "un-American, outrageous overreach," were both signed into law this morning.
SB9, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliot, R-Fairhope, allows Alabama employees to claim medical or religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccines. SB15, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, prevents minors from receiving any COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent and also forbids Alabama schools from asking about a student’s vaccination status.
Democrats and pro-business interests in Alabama have decried the state's stance on the federal madates as being "anti-business." Officials at the Business Council of Alabama panned the legislation saying that it would, “cause confusion and place Alabama employers in a no-win position by forcing them to comply with conflicting state and federal laws.”
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, described the bills as being collectively, "the most anti-business piece of legislation I’ve encountered since my time in office." Daniels also alleged that the state's defiance of federal guidance would, "kill jobs in the state of Alabama."
At end of last month, Governor Ivey issued an executive order calling on state agencies to defy the federal vaccine mandate with instructions to allow non-compliant employees and businesses to continue working in spite of their non-compliance. The mandate requires all companies with more than 100 employees to have their workers vaccinated by by Jan. 4.
“Last week, when I issued my executive order to fight the overreaching Biden vaccine mandates, I reiterated that as long as I am your governor, the state of Alabama will not force anyone to take the covid-19 vaccine. From the moment the White House rolled out their scare tactic plans to try to force this vaccine on Americans...Alabamians – including those like myself who are pro-vaccine – are adamantly against this weaponization of the federal government, which is why we simply must fight this any way we know how. That is exactly why I have signed Senate Bills 9 and 15 into law. This is another step in the fight, but we are not done yet.
Ivey also placed her signature on four reapportionment bills establishing new state and Congressional voting districts as well as a new state Board of education map.
Already, the redrawn districts are the subjects of litigation. Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Montgomery, and State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham have jointly filed a federal lawsuit against the state alleging racial discrimination in the state's reapportioned maps.
Senators Singleton and Smitherman are not the only litigants opposed to the maps. According to the Alabama Reporter, "Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney and founder of Democracy Docket, announced on social media that his firm had filed suit against the state — and specifically against Secretary of State John Merrill — on behalf of several Black voters."
Elias' lawsuit claims that the newly approved maps, “intentionally dilutes the voting strength of Black Alabamians by creating only one majority-Black voting district.” Alabama's population is roughly 26% Black.
The numbers and the lines seem to support those arguing against the redrawn districts. Alabama's 7th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Terri Sewell is the state's only majority Black district and state lawmakers have been deliberate in keeping it that way.
Gerrymandering is nothing new in politics but Alabama's new maps represent a somewhat bald-faced attempt at subverting district lines for political gain. The new maps show several instances of Black voters being removed from other districts and being "packed" in the the 7th Congressional District. For example, the majority of Montgomery County falls into the 2nd Congressional District, which is represented currently by Republican Congressman Barry Moore. However, a portion of west Montgomery, which is heavily populated and almost entirely Black, is carved out and placed in the 7th Congressional District.
Republicans supporters of the newly approved apportionment bills contend that their gerrymandering efforts have been in accordance with the Voting Rights Act of 1964, since the lines ensure that the state has a majority Black voting district.
For now, the reapportioned maps and the vaccine laws will stand but the pending lawsuits against the state and from the state pose serious threats to the newly minted districts and the newly-signed vaccine mandate laws.