NAACP sues Alabama because voters elected all white judges to the state’s top courts
The Alabama State Conference of the NAACP is representing four black voters in a lawsuit against the State of Alabama, claiming that Alabama voters’ decision to elect white judges to each of the state’s top courts violates their constitutional rights.
Liberal political blog ThinkProgress explains:
On Wednesday, Tuscaloosa reverend Curtis Travis and three other African American voters sued the state for conducting its judicial elections in a way they say prevents voters of color from electing the candidates of their choice. They argue that at-large elections, in which the entire state votes on all of the state’s top judges, has prevented them from electing anyone who truly represents them.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
Alabama’s Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals are each elected on the statewide ballot, resulting in the 19 slots currently being filled by 14 men and 5 women, all of them white.
“There have been years of minorities making strides, but the white men continue to hold disproportionate power our state,” Reverend Travis told reporters. “Alabama is more diverse now than ever, but our judges are not.”
Jim Blacksher, an attorney for the plaintiffs, blamed the Republican Party for the election results and said the statewide elections are part of a nefarious plot to ensure “black Alabamians remain subordinate to whites in state government.”
“The Republican Party has really mobilized the majority-white electorate of Alabama,” he bemoaned. “So the only way African Americans will have a chance to elect candidates of their choice is if the method of elections is changed.”
What the plaintiffs are pushing for is a change to the way Alabama elects its judges.
They want the state to be divided into districts that each elect a member of the Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals, similar to how members of the U.S. Congress are currently chosen.
“The at-large method of electing judges to the three high courts submerges African-American voters so that they are rendered ineffective electoral minorities in every election,” their lawsuit reads.
Secretary of State John Merrill, Alabama’s top elections official, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the suit at this time, but added that his office works daily to ensure “every eligible Alabamian is registered to vote and has a valid form of ID allowing them to participate on Election Day.”
The lawsuit comes at a time when voting rights issues are the focus of intense political and legal battles.
Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that would-be voters in Alabama will not be required to show proof of U.S. citizenship when using a federal voter registration form.
The Washington Post called the decision a “victory for civil rights groups, Democratic lawyers and the Obama administration” in “their ongoing battle with conservative lawyers and Republican lawmakers over who will be eligible to vote in this year’s presidential contest.”
Alabama State Rep. Jim Patterson accused opponents of the proof-of-citizenship and voter ID requirements of trying to “steal elections.”
“The two judges that overruled the states should be arrested for treason!” he exclaimed in a Facebook post. “They have no clue about the Constitution! This is not about voter rights, it’s about people voting that are not qualified!”
In spite of the proof-of-citizenship ruling, Alabama’s photo voter ID law remains in effect, although Democrats across the country continue decrying it as “racist” and “hateful”.
In an October 2015 visit to Hoover, Hillary Clinton slammed Alabama Republicans for requiring proof of citizenship to vote and for shuttering driver’s license offices in the wake of state budget cuts. The Democratic presidential nominee insisted that both issues were examples of Republicans trying to return Alabama to its Jim Crow past.
“We have to defend the most fundamental right in our democracy, the right to vote,” she said. “No one in this state, no one, should ever forget the history that enabled generations of people left out and left behind to finally be able to vote.”
Before that, Vice President Joe Biden chided supporters of voter ID laws in light of liberal defeat in the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder which stemmed from a legal challenge in Alabama. “These guys never go away,” Biden said. “Hatred never, never goes away. The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.”
Since 2008, Republican-controlled legislatures in 17 states have adopted new voting-related laws. Among those are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, which passed laws requiring a photo ID to vote. (h/t The Daily Beast)
Conservatives have long argued it is reasonable to require photo voter ID in order to protect the sanctity of elections, particularly because photo ID is also required for any number of other activities, from buying alcohol and opening a bank account, to getting on an airplane and renting a car.
But several lower courts have in recent months agreed with Democrats’ assertion that such laws are discriminatory.
There are currently at least 10 different types of ID that are acceptable to use at the polls (including a driver’s license) and the Secretary of State’s office also offers free Alabama photo voter ID cards and free non-driver IDs for purposes of voting.