Patrick Cagle has been named the new president of the Alabama Coal Association, succeeding George Barber, who has elected to retire after seven years of service to the coal group which was first formed in 1972.
Cagle, who has worked with the association on legislative matters in the past, has more than 10 years of experience in navigating Alabama’s political landscape. As executive director of JobKeeper Alliance, a 501c(4) nonprofit whose mission is to protect and create quality jobs, he previously worked hand-in-hand with the coal industry to oppose onerous, job-killing regulations.
Cagle and his wife, Molly, have a 15-month-old son, Bankston. They are active members at Church of the Highlands. Cagle is an avid outdoorsman and a member of the Conservation Advisory Board, which assists the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources with the formation of hunting and fishing regulations.
Chief Justice Lyn Stuart Announces Candidacy
Chief Justice Lyn Stuart has announced her run for election as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Chief Justice Stuart has been a judge for 29 years and has served on the Alabama Supreme Court since 2001. She was appointed Chief Justice by Governor Kay Ivey in April 2017, bringing a firm and fair approach in guiding Alabama’s unified court system.
“I am proud to announce my campaign for Chief Justice because we need to continue making Alabama a place where justice is served and the law is evenly applied to all parties. We need a judicial system where our justices follow the law, not make the law. And we need justices who strictly interpret the constitution. I’m proud of my record of doing just that and I look forward to speaking with the voters to get that message out there over the coming months.”
Justice Stuart’s prior experience extends beyond her years of service as a member of Alabama’s Supreme Court. She also was elected and served for 12 years as a district judge and circuit judge in Baldwin County and before that prosecuted cases as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney. “I have a deep knowledge and understanding of how our state’s legal system works from top to bottom,“ continued Stuart.
“Securing adequate financial resources for our courts is a primary responsibility of the Chief Justice. State government is experiencing tough financial times. Everyone in our court system is having to do more with less. It’s important to have someone with my background, experience and work ethic, someone who will work hard every day to keep our courts fair and running smoothly. That’s what I’ve been doing for 29 years and, if elected, that’s what I intend to keep doing.“
Chief Justice Stuart is proud to call Alabama home. Born in Atmore and a graduate of Escambia County High School, she continued her education by graduating from Auburn University and receiving a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. In addition to her duties as a justice, she has been married to her husband George for 36 years, is the mother of two sons, Tucker and Shepard, a daughter Kelly, and grandmother to Sophie and Thomas. Justice Stuart has attended and served at Bay Minette United Methodist Church for 33 years.
Alabama to Step Up Enforcement of Automobile Liability Insurance Law
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) has announced plans to step up its enforcement of the automobile liability insurance law beginning in November. According to the Decatur Daily, drivers without insurance will face stricter fines and penalties.
12.9 percent of Alabama drivers are uninsured, according to the Alabama Department of Revenue. Motorists are required by the Mandatory Liability Insurance law passed in 2016 to have liability insurance that includes at least $100,000 in coverage. “There has been a grace period in enforcing that law to give motorists some time to obtain the proper insurance coverage,” ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said.
The law says that no one can register, maintain, or operate an automobile unless it is covered by a liability insurance policy. A form of the law was passed in 2011 but amended last year. Before the 2011 law was passed, Alabama had the sixth-highest percentage of uninsured motorists at 22 percent. That percentage has been cut in half since.
Taylor said that those involved in a car accident or traffic stop could be written a citation, or face a civil penalty later, for not holding the proper insurance. Drivers without insurance could face a $200 penalty for their first offense, $300 for the second, and $400 for subsequent offenses.
“When involved in a traffic incident (traffic stop or crash), some drivers have been known to present what appear to be valid insurance cards. When checked, however, it turns out the drivers had let the liability insurance lapse,” ALEA Chief Public Information Officer Robyn Bryan said.
Those who fail to pay the penalty within 45 days could have their license suspended for 90 days.
Big Changes At Talladega This Year
As reported by ABC 33/40, NASCAR fans are gearing up for one of the hottest venues in the racing world. Like every year, thousands will flock to Alabama for the opportunity to experience the Alabama 500. And this year, there is a new law fans are going to love.
For the first time in the city’s history, Lincoln officials have approved the sale of alcohol on Sundays.
Up until this point, if you wanted to enjoy a beer at Talladega, you had to bring it yourself or travel to another city and buy it. Now the city plans on saving fans and local businesses the hassle of maneuvering the archaic law by allowing Sunday sales.
Businesses will still have some restriction. For example, alcohol will be prohibited until after certain times. Nonetheless, many predict the new law will only boost Talledega’s popularity among fans.
Iconic Alabama Attorney Alexander Shunnarah to Host Another Free Legal Advice Day
LEEDS, Ala. — After a successful first event in Bessemer this Spring, Alabama Attorney Alexander Shunnarah will host a second free legal advice day in Leeds on Wednesday, July 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Shunnarah and four top attorneys from his practice will take questions at the Leeds Public Library annex, and time slots will be issued on a first come, first serve basis.
Shunnarah’s firm focuses on civil litigation, and it has won clients settlements in personal injury, auto accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, wrongful death, social security disability, pharmaceutical litigation, drug recalls, medical devices, and mass torts throughout Alabama.
“Legal matters can be tough and even intimidating,” said Alexander Shunnarah, CEO of Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. “Unfortunately, people do not always ask for the help they need. We encourage people to come see us and welcome all legal questions. We’re here to help.”
The completely free event allows people in the community to have an opportunity to ask attorneys important questions regarding auto and motorcycle accidents, social security, dangerous drugs, work injuries, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, sexual assault, defective medical devices, and more. Attorneys will discuss the issues within the time slot and offer contact information for future connection with those who do not receive a meeting once time slots are filled.
Shunnarah’s practice held its first free legal advice day back in April and had positive feed back from the people in Bessemer. “We were pleased with the turnout and outcome of our inaugural Free Legal Advice Day,” Shunnarah told Yellowhammer. “I have always strived to hire local attorneys with close community ties. It is important that people know there is legal help they can trust right in their backyard.”
Shunnarah started hosting free legal advice days because he believes many people do not know how to move forward with a problem that may involve the legal system. In April, Shunnarah’s community engagement specialist, Ronnie Rice, told Yellowhammer that the motivation lies within Shunnarah’s desire to give back to his community.
“With our Free Legal Advice Day series, we are coming straight to the people. As we reach out to our neighbors offering convenient access to legal expertise, we’re equipping them with knowledge to tackle legal matters weighing on them,” Shunnarah said. “The way I see it, it’s David versus Goliath. My attorneys and I want to help people take on their Goliath. That’s gratifying work. We look forward to this next Free Legal Advice Day in Leeds on July 26, and continuing to serve the greater Birmingham area.”
The Way Officers Conduct Traffic Stops Is About to Change: Here’s What Alabamians Need to Know
Starting August 1, traffic stops will enter the Twenty-First Century. Thanks to Alabama Legislative Act 2017-242, drivers will now be able to show police officers their vehicle registration on their cell phone instead of having to reach across the cab to grab it from the glove box.
Alabama drivers already have the right to show police officers their insurance information via cell phone. Now, almost the entirety of a traffic stop can be completed technologically.
“It’s right here in your hands, so once they tell you to roll your window down so far or whatever you do, do; just say hey here you go officer,” Teon Thomas told ABC 33/40.
While the law allows a police officer to look at a person’s phone to get the necessary information, it protects individuals from improper searches of their device. The officer is only allowed to look at the information required to complete the traffic stop and no more.
Officials behind the law believe it will speed up stops and avoid misunderstandings that have led to recent tragic shootings, like the case of Philando Castille in Minnesota.
“When they pull up, most people have their phone in their hand already, so like here you go officer, swipe through there show them everything to see, send them on their way, tell them whatever you need to. It saves another life, you live to see another day,” Thomas said to 33/40.
Use of Red Light Cameras Challenged in Alabama Courts
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Late last week, Federal appeals judges ruled that a lawsuit over the use of red light cameras in Alabama can move ahead in state court. The city of Montgomery and American Traffic Solutions, Inc. were first named in a class action suit back in 2015 that claims the use of red light cameras by the city is illegal. Attorneys are demanding that the program be suspended and that those who have been fined through the use of cameras receive a refund.
21 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws specifically legalizing the use of red light cameras. 10 states prohibit their use, and 19 states — including Alabama — have no law on the subject.
Montgomery and Tuscaloosa were given permission by the legislature to use the cameras on 2010. A similar effort to prohibit red light cameras’ use in Tuscaloosa was unsuccessful in 2015. Tuscaloosa attorney Stuart Albea challenged their use on constitutional grounds, stating that municipalities fining those caught by the cameras have circumvented proper due process.
In upholding Tuscaloosa’s law, County Circuit Court Judge John England wrote that the cameras are permissible because the owners of a vehicle are subject only to fines, not arrest. “The tickets don’t go on the vehicle owner’s criminal record,” he said, “and no negative points are assessed to the owner’s driver’s license.”
Opponents of the technology also argue that the purpose of the devices is not to promote public safety but to boost local government revenue. As of 2016, Florida’s statewide law has increased revenue from traffic violations by over $100 million, giving cities a financial incentive to continue the program. The Tuscaloosa News reports there were 3,574 tickets issued between January and June 2015 and 5,198 during all of 2014 from the nine monitored intersections.
Will State-Based Changes to Marijuana Laws Soon Impact Entire Country?
Though illegal for nearly 50 years under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the possession and sale of marijuana seems to be losing its negative stigma. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, and the recreational use of marijuana is legal in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and the nation’s capital. Despite many states loosening their marijuana laws, the drug remains federally prohibited under the CSA. This means marijuana is legal and illegal at the same time. The tension between the federal prohibition of the drug and its legality in some states has the potential to cause significant problems for state officials and newly legal marijuana corporations.
It is somewhat unclear what the legalization of marijuana means for the states that have legalized the recreational use of the drug. In 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Colorado is consistently at the forefront of drug policy reform; the state also legalized syringe exchange programs and has the most comprehensive medical marijuana regulatory scheme in the country. After legalizing recreational marijuana, Colorado made over $135 million in tax revenue in 2015, and opened the door to a billion-dollar industry that has created thousands of new jobs in the state. So far, there do not seem to be many negative effects of recreational legalization in Colorado. However, it is possible that Colorado’s changing drug laws are outpacing government enforcement. There is still much confusion surrounding marijuana related DUIs, and a problem has emerged with children mistakenly eating THC infused edibles. Like the alcohol and tobacco industries, it’s possible that the marijuana industry might exploit its profitability to avoid much government regulation. Because of uncertainties like these, it won’t be clear for 5-10 years whether the long-term effects of marijuana legalization are negative or positive.
California is one of the most recent states to legalize recreational marijuana, along with Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada. However, in 1996, CA was the first state to legalize medical marijuana use. Because the legalization of recreational marijuana in California is so recent, the framework for regulating and selling the drug will probably not be well-established until at least 2018. It is therefore unclear exactly what effects this change in the law will have on the state. It’s likely that CA will try to improve in areas where Colorado struggled; Californa will attempt to more strictly regulate edibles, for example, so that they are not mistakenly eaten by small children. Although California can look to the states that legalized before it, because recreational marijuana legalization is still such a new development there is no definitely correct regulation framework.
While California and Colorado are among the states at the forefront of marijuana legalization, Alabama and Georgia are among the states least likely to legalize recreational marijuana. Alabama has some of the strictest drug laws in the country. The marijuana usage rate in Alabama is extremely low, only 9.7%, because of high fines and serious penalties for possession, although Alabama does offer pre-trial diversion for most people who are charged with possession of marijuana. The Alabama senate recently killed a bill on medical marijuana legalization, and no form of legalization seems likely in the near future. GA has overall very strict drug
Georgia has overall very strict drug laws, and makes more marijuana related arrests per 100,000 people than the national average. However, Georgia does offer alternative sentencing for marijuana related crimes, to avoid jail time, and recently passed a law allowing eligible medical patients to possess cannabis oil that has high CBD but very low THC; these patients get the beneficial medical effects of the drug but no “high.” However, the problem is that Georgia does not produce this oil in-state, and going across state lines to acquire it violates federal law. This federalism conflict thus renders the medical CBD exception somewhat useless.
The situation in Georgia highlights a major problem in state-by-state marijuana legalization- the drug is still illegal at the federal level, and marijuana may be completely legal in one state and completely illegal in the state next-door. This conflict creates several problems. Federal employees are still drug tested, even where the drug is legal. Smoking marijuana is still illegal in federally subsidized housing even where it has been legalized. Banks worry about financing marijuana corporations, as they may be penalized for money laundering or tied into the illegal transport of the drug over state lines. Attorneys are hesitant to work for marijuana corporations, as attorneys remain bound by federal law. Additionally, marijuana corporations cannot write-off expenses like rent or utilities when filing their federal taxes.
As more states legalize, it’s possible that federal law will change, but so far, the CSA remains in effect. The issue with federal law changing to legalize marijuana is that some states may not want to legalize the drug, and many argue that legalization should be for state citizens to decide. Some legal scholars have suggested a system of cooperative federalism. Under such a system, if states meet certain federal criteria for marijuana legalization they may be exempt from the CSA. This would give states the opportunity to experiment with legalization, but allow other states to keep marijuana illegal. Under a system of cooperative federalism, there would still be concerns of state-to-state spillover effects. However, if the federal government is still able to play a strong role in regulation this should not be a problem. Under the conservative Trump administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is staunchly against marijuana legalization, it seems unlikely that the federal-state conflict will be resolved in the near future. However, the country has remained stable after several changes in marijuana law over the last 20 years, and will likely still remain stable as states continue to debate the issue.
Editor’s Note: The views of Guest Contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Yellowhammer, and Yellowhammer’s Editors do not support the legalization of marijuana.
About the Author: Katherine Pickle is a Clerk at Reid Law Firm. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English and Political Science in 2016 and will be beginning her second year at Emory University School of Law in August.
Alabama city considers decriminalizing some marijuana offenses
MOBILE, Ala. — Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has introduced a potential city ordinance that would decriminalize several minor marijuana offenses. First brought forward at last night’s City Council meeting, the vote on the measure has been pushed back in order to ensure it complies with state law.
Decriminalization differs from legalization in that the former lessens penalties for certain illegal acts, while the latter eliminates any legal consequences for an act whatsoever.
The draft version of the Mobile ordinance would remove the requirement of law enforcement to arrest individuals for 12 marijuana related crimes, such as public intoxication, possession in the second degree, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Instead, those busted by law enforcement could receive a Uniform Non-Traffic Citation and Complaint. If a charge is uncontested, the mandatory court appearance would be waived and those convicted would be fined $100.
Stimpson and Mobile Public Safety Director James Barber say that the purpose of the ordinance is to allow law enforcement to focus their time and resources on violent crimes. “We’re transporting people from jurisdiction areas in custodial situations for very minor offenses and bringing them all the way downtown only to have them sign their own bond, so this is a way to have the bond issued at the scene and avoid transport,” Barber told Mobile’s NBC affiliate.
Over the past decade, states across the union have experimented with varying degrees of marijuana legalization. The Obama Justice Department generally took a hands-off approach to pro-marijuana state statues, but the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sought to increase federal enforcement of strict drug laws.
According to Governing Magazine, eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 19 others have “Medical marijuana broadly legalized.” Alabama is in neither category.
What do you think about the possibility of marijuana one day being legal in Alabama? Vote in our poll below.
Yellowhammers Exclusive Interview with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart
In her seventeenth year on the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Lyn Stuart was recently appointed Chief Justice by Governor Kay Ivey. Chief Justice Stuart was kind enough to visit with Yellowhammer for an exclusive interview to provide our readers some insights on the lady who holds the highest position in the Alabama Supreme Court. Below is that interview:
What was your childhood like in Atmore?
It was quite idyllic. Like most children in those days, we spent much of our time outdoors, actively playing when we weren’t in school. Because I grew up in such a small town, we knew our neighbors and it was safe for children to be out and about. We often rode our bikes to a small country store a quarter mile or so from our home and I have a great appreciation for the simple and tranquil Alabama upbringing I enjoyed.
When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine that one day you’d be Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court?
Absolutely not. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I’d have the honor of serving my fellow Alabamians in this role.
As a student, what attracted you to the law?
It began with my interest in the juvenile justice system when I was still in high school. I really wanted to be a juvenile probation officer but those positions were rarely open, so at Auburn, I took the LSATs without much forethought. Thankfully, because my test scores were high, I received a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama Law School and was also accepted into Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. However, I didn’t enroll right away. I accepted an internship in Washington with former Congressman Jack Edwards. He was a great encouragement and really inspired my career. He also allowed me to audit a class at Georgetown Law School—a legal research and writing class. That proved to be really helpful when I eventually enrolled in law school at Alabama because I’d already mastered this discipline of legal research and writing. I was so impressed with that class that I considered staying in D.C. and going to Georgetown, but Congressman Edwards took me to lunch one day and encouraged me to come home to Alabama, which was definitely the right decision. Not only did I love my three years of law school in Tuscaloosa, Congressman Edwards told me there would be classmates I’d interact with throughout my career, and that proved to be some of the wisest advice I’d ever received.
Who are some of those people?
Honestly, they’re too numerous to name, but a few that come to mind are Harold Stephens, Bradley Byrne (my Congressman), John Tyson, Sam Crosby, and so many others. It’s a community of professional colleagues for whom I’m very grateful.
What’s one piece of advice would you give to students considering the law or already in law school?
It’s a great career, but if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, above all else do internships and shadow someone. My jobs in law offices and my internship in Washington went far in shaping my career, so by all means, young students should get the work experience they need to refine their interests, which will also make the classroom experiences more meaningful.
Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
Once again, they’re too numerous to name, but in addition to Congressman Edwards, one that comes to mind is the late Judge Robert Key. He was a circuit judge in Monroe and Conecuh Counties, and a friend of my father’s, so I’d known him from childhood. I took a job as a runner in a small law firm in Monroeville, and that afforded me the opportunity to listen to trials, to see how law offices operate and have a front-row seat to the world that would eventually become my profession. So Judge Key was not only a trusted family friend but a person of tremendous influence in my life.
As a judge in the Juvenile Justice system in Alabama, what’s the most inspiring story you recall?
Once I was in Walmart near my home not long after 9/11 when I was approached by a gentleman I didn’t recognize. He said something like, “Ma’am, I know you don’t remember me but my son was in your court some years ago, and you were kind and fair with him. Today, that same young man is building those bombs that are being dropped on the terrorists that attacked our country, and I just want to thank you for what you did for my child. It helped him become the man he is today.” To say that hearing this redemptive story was a powerful and moving moment in my life is a huge understatement.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about your service on the Alabama Supreme Court?
Each of the Justices has areas of expertise. That’s what makes our Supreme Court function so well. When I first came on the Court, I was the only person with a background in juvenile and family law. People are always surprised at the number of those cases we have but I think my background in that field, and in criminal law in general, has allowed to me add real value to the court. Also, because I was a trial judge for 12 years before serving on the high court, I think it gives me a perspective that’s helpful for the cases we consider. My time as a trial judge taught me that judges must be patient with people—with attorneys and parties. We have to patiently and carefully consider what everyone has to say, no matter who they are or why they’re there, and I think that perspective has also served me well on the Supreme Court.
In a world full of judicial activism, how would you describe the Alabama Supreme Court’s role?
Quite simply, we decide every single case based solely on the facts and the laws that apply to those facts. In other words, our job is to interpret the law and to affirm and uphold what it says. It’s not our job to make the law. For that reason, we leave political considerations aside and do only what wise judges should do, discern what the law says about each case that comes before us.
In closing, tell me about your two grandchildren:
My husband and I are blessed to have two wonderful grandchildren. Our granddaughter Sophie starts kindergarten next fall and our grandson Thomas is two. Every moment spent with them is time well spent!
Alabama bill protecting religious liberties of faith-based adoption agencies moves one step closer to law
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In a 22-9 Tuesday vote, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse placing children in homes with LGBTQ parents on religious freedom grounds. Specifically, the legislation prevents the state from refusing to license such organizations that turn away same-sex couples.
Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) sponsored the senate version of the bill, and he argues that the law would prevent religious adoption groups from having to make the choice between following their beliefs or staying in business. State Democrats claim that the bill legalizes discrimination.
Although the House of Representatives passed the bill, it must go back for re-approval after amendments were added in the senate.
Religious freedom has become a hot button issue across the nation, as several states have begun to add LGBTQ as a protected class in their civil rights laws. In Oregon, the owner of a cake shop was fined $135,000 and effectively shut down for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding that she disagreed with on religious grounds.
Currently, no such protected classification exists for LGBTQ individuals in Alabama.
At the federal level, private organizations are protected by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In the famous Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that closely held companies can make internal policy decisions – like refusing to pay for birth control – based on their religious beliefs.
Iconic Alabama attorney Alexander Shunnarah to host free legal advice day
BESSEMER, Ala. — With billboards all over the state, every Alabamian has become familiar with the name Alexander Shunnarah. The local attorney has evolved into a state icon, and his practice only continues to grow throughout the southeast. Now, Shunnarah wants to give back to the community he calls home with a free legal advice day on Saturday, April 22 from 1 to 4 p.m.
The event will be held at the Bessemer Legacy YMCA and will offer anyone the opportunity to ask attorneys important questions regarding auto and motorcycle accidents, social security, dangerous drugs, work injuries, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, sexual assault, defective medical devices, and more.
Shunnarah hand-picked the team of lawyers that will be present at the event, as they represent the very best his firm has to offer.
Ronnie Rice, a community engagement specialist for Shunnarah, emphasized that the event is about helping the people in Shunnarah’s local Alabama community. “Mr. Shunnarah loves the community. He knows that the community has given so much to him, so he wants to give something back to the community,” Rice said.
Shunnarah will be there personally, and he encourages people to come talk to him, get to know him, and pick his brain on legal issues. “He’s a good christian guy, and he’s down to Earth,” Rice said. “When people meet him they’re definitely going to see that.”
Rice noted that Shunnarah wants to make “free legal advice day” an ongoing service. “This is something completely free; we’re not expecting anything in return,” Rice said. “We’re going to see what the turnout is, and from that we’ll determine how often we’ll do this.”
Over the past several years, Shunnarah’s firm has expanded outside of Alabama and into other portions of the southeast. According to Rice, the secret to the firm’s success is simple: treating people right. “I know it sounds cliché, but treating people right – whether its the client, employees, or even competitors – means that people are going to return the favor ten times over.”
Justice Gorsuch: the Alabama Congressional delegation reacts to the court’s return to nine
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a lengthy procedural battle, The U.S. Senate finally confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on Friday by a vote of 54-45. President Donald Trump’s nominee will fill the ninth seat on the court which has been vacated since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away last February.
The Senate’s vote was mostly along party lines. However, three Democrats crossed the aisle to support the confirmation of an eminently qualified judicial nominee.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said “Judge Gorsuch is one of the most qualified nominees that I have seen while serving in the United States Senate. His background, credentials, and commitment to the Constitution speak for themselves.”
Alabama’s junior senator, Luther Strange (R-Ala.), noted that Gorsuch’s selection and confirmation to the Supreme Court came from a direct democratic mandate of the people. “For so many Americans, casting a vote last November for Donald Trump meant restoring faith in the federal judiciary,” Strange said. “Alabamians want a high court that respects and affirms the rule of law, and because of today’s historic vote, that is what they are getting. I was proud to cast my vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch and help the President deliver on this important promise.”
Shelby and Strange’s colleagues across the hill had rave review’s for Gorsuch’s confirmation. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) said that Gorsuch is the perfect replacement for the late Justice Scalia. “I applaud the Senate for confirming him to serve on our nation’s highest court,” Byrne said. “Judge Gorsuch has distinguished himself as a thoughtful and balanced jurist who understands it is not the job of the courts to write laws but rather to interpret the law as written. Our nation will be better off with him on the Supreme Court.”
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) similarly applauded the confirmation of the latest Supreme Court Justice. “I believe our country will benefit from the new energy and experience that Justice Gorsuch will bring to the bench,” Roby said. “Throughout the confirmation process, Justice Gorsuch proved himself to be a highly capable individual who is supremely qualified for this great responsibility. I believe his stated commitment to interpreting the Constitution as it was written will hasten a long overdue return to the separation of powers and rule of law in this country.”
In addition to supporting the president’s selection, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL5) reiterated his support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) use of the nuclear option to break the Democratic filibuster. “I support the Senate’s use of the Democrat Harry Reid precedent to ensure Gorsuch’s confirmation,” Brooks said. “Despite failed partisan attempts and political theater aimed to paint Gorsuch as an ideologue who will rule based on personal beliefs, Gorsuch has consistently demonstrated his commitment and record of ruling on issues before his court based on rational interpretation of the original intent of the Constitution or law, regardless of his personal opinions. I am certain Neil Gorsuch will honor the legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia.”
The Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, noted that Gorsuch’s confirmation will help reverse trends of liberal activism on the high court. “As he endured over twenty hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch demonstrated his ability to rise above politics and uphold the law of the United States,” API said in a statement. “His record on the bench shows that he will adhere to the law and the Constitution, as a thoughtful and responsible jurist.”
Before his nomination, Gorsuch served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He graduated from undergrad with a degree from Columbia University, and he received his law degree from Harvard. His experience with the nation’s highest court goes back decades, as he clerked under two associate justices: Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.
Legal scholars agree that Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy is in the same vein as Antonin Scalia. Like Scalia, Trump’s nominee is a textualist who interprets the plain meaning of the law. He also believes the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted in the context that it was understood at the time of its adoption. In 2016, he wrote of his judicial philosophy:
Judges should instead strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be — not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.
Gorsuch’s nomination is possible due to Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Strange praises President Trump’s order to roll back EPA regulations
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) is lauding President Trump for his latest executive order, which rolls back President Obama’s expansive climate change agenda. The order removes previous regulations with the stated goal of increasing energy independence and creating American jobs.
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump said during his speech at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. “I am taking an historic step to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.”
Trump’s executive action lifts restrictions on domestic coal and onshore oil and gas production, with key provisions taking effect immediately. Further rollback of major regulations under Obama’s Clean Power Plan are pending additional agency review.
Strange attended the roll out of the order along with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, both of whom praised the president for following through on his campaign promise.
“Unnecessary bureaucratic red tape in the energy industry costs Alabama families money at the gas pump and grocery store, stifles innovation, and depresses the job market,” Strange said in a statement. “It is a relief to see these Obama-era regulations being rolled back so that the full potential of domestic energy can be realized. I am excited to get to work with an administration that is serious about achieving American energy independence.”
It is only fitting that Strange was present at the signing of the executive order. As Alabama’s Attorney General, he challenged the legal merits of overreaching federal regulations on numerous occasions, including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States rule, and other price increasing regulations.
Alabama Senator prepares to roll back burdensome financial law
Senator Richard Shelby has long planned to use his powerful position on the Senate Banking Committee to roll back regulations on community banks and credit unions across the nation. Now, with Republicans squarely in the majority on Capitol Hill, it seems he’s readying to make a move against Dodd-Frank.
On Sunday, The Hill reported that Sen. Shelby and others in the GOP are considering a special budgetary strategy that would allow them to bypass Democrat’s attempts to sabotage a repeal of the unpopular legislation. Through a process known as reconciliation, the Senate majority would be able to avoid a filibuster.
Sen. Shelby said that removing the regulation will benefit small businesses in Alabama and elsewhere.
“The 2,300 page financial overhaul known as Dodd-Frank negatively impacts our financial system and our economy with its ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to regulation,” Shelby told Yellowhammer News. “I believe that it is past time to fix what is broken, and our unified Republican government is an opportunity for us to finally give relief to hardworking Americans. Towns and cities in Alabama and across the country thrive when banks and other institutions can provide loans – not when they are smothered with burdensome rules and regulations.”
According to the Federal Reserve and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, the Dodd-Frank Act caused compliance costs to increase for 94 percent of community banks. A Harvard study also showed community banks with less than $10 billion in assets are losing market share at twice the rate they were before the financial crisis.
Many of the 115 banks headquartered in Alabama fall under the definition of community bank, and would benefit from removing the regulations.
Judiciary committee approves Sessions for AG
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A day later than expected, the U.S. Senate Judiciary voted to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General by an 11-9 party-line vote. Sessions’ confirmation now goes to the floor, where his Republican colleagues are expected to approve him.
Sessions’ nomination was originally supposed to come to a vote yesterday, but Senate Democrats did not show up in an act of protest. Already a contentious nominee for liberals, Sessions became even more controversial after President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“Not one order idea or pronouncement is meant to bring this country together; they only serve to drive us further apart,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) “It is in this context we are being asked to consider this nomination.”
Sessions, and his Republican colleagues, have vehemently defended his reputation, his record, and his ability to do the job of Attorney General. “He knows the department better than any nominee for attorney general, he’s a man of his word, and most importantly he will enforce the law no matter whether he would have supported that law as a member of the Senate,” Committee chairman Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said.
The American Civil Liberties Union called for Democrats to protest Trump’s nominations until the executive order is rolled back. Throughout the day on Tuesday, Democrats failed to show up to approval votes on several of Trump’s selections, including Sessions.
“We’ve got [attorney general nominee] Jeff Sessions, who we’re told was involved somehow in the drafting of these executive orders,” said Faiz Shakir, political director for the ACLU. “If they want to press this through, say: You don’t get an attorney general until you overturn the Muslim ban.”
Trump adds another Alabama congressional staffer to his administration
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Alabama connections to the Trump Administration keep getting stronger and stronger. Today, it was announced that Peter J. White, Legislative Counsel to Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL5), will be joining President Trump’s White House Domestic Policy Council as Senior Policy Analyst.
“Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District’s loss is President Donald Trump’s gain. President Trump is immensely fortunate to gain the expertise of Peter J. White as a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council,” Rep. Brooks said in a statement. “I wish him the best in this new position and commend his selection. The White House is gaining a passionate staffer, dedicated to helping President Trump keep his campaign promises.”
White is from Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District and graduated from Grissom High School in 2001. He earned his J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law and went on to serve as Legislative Counsel for Brooks in D.C. During his time working under Brooks, White helped craft legislation on immigration, space, and cybersecurity. He also served as Brooks’ chief advisor on judiciary and transportation issues.
Before his time working with the House, White worked at the Federal Trade Commission in the Office of International Affairs and the Bureau of Competition, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Spectrum and Competition Policy Division of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
He will be far from the only Alabamian to play a large role in crafting policy with President Trump. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) will – in all likelihood – be the next Attorney General of the United States and set the agenda for the Department of Justice. Sessions’ former staffer, Stephen Miller, is currently a senior advisor to the president, as well.
Yellowhammer’s own Cliff Sims, who formally stepped down on Inauguration Day, also took a job in the White House as Special Assistant to the President and Director of White House Message Strategy. “It is an incredible honor to be asked to work in the White House and I look forward to serving the President and the country in this role,” Sims said.
YUGE: Trump meets with Alabama native Supreme Court prospect
NEW YORK, NY — Over the weekend, President Elect Donald J. Trump met with Judge William Pryor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, who is one of Trump’s many finalists for the vacant Supreme Court Seat. The meeting was held on Saturday, and was not reported on until the Associated Press confirmed through two sources on Tuesday.
Pryor previously served as Alabama’s deputy attorney general and attorney general (succeeding now-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions) before being nominated to the Eleventh Circuit President George W. Bush in 2003.
During an interview on Fox News, the president-elect said he narrowed the list “down to probably three or four” candidates. “They are terrific people,” Trump said. “Highly respected, brilliant people.”
Reportedly, Pryor made the short list. The meeting in New York will only add to the speculation that he has a good shot at the nomination.
Since Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death early in 2016, the ninth seat on the Supreme Court has remained vacant, as the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate successfully blocked President Obama’s attempt to install Judge Merrick Garland.
Conservative legal scholars and politicians alike have been on the hunt to find the next Scalia, going as far as to conduct a study on judges language in an attempt to find a match. Pryor had one of the highest scores on the index and was only one of three judges to be in the “positive” range.
As a judge, Pryor has upheld state voter-ID laws, written anti-Obamacare opinions, and called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”
It is likely that Scalia’s seat will not be the only one that Trump will fill during his presidency. Two justices – Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg – are at least 80 years old, and another – Stephen Bryer – is 78.
Condi backs Sessions for AG: ‘He knows that law and order are necessary to guarantee freedom and liberty’
As Jeff Sessions wraps up day one of a contentious Senate confirmation hearing, more key leaders continue to pour in endorsements that affirm the Alabama Senator’s qualification for a post with the nation’s top law enforcement agency. The latest voice of support comes from former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
CNN first reported that Rice, who is an Alabama native, wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, calling Sessions someone she admires “greatly.”
“He is a man who is committed to justice and knows that law and order are necessary to guarantee freedom and liberty,” she wrote.
As the left has swirled debunked allegations of racism against Sessions, Rice said that the Senator had worked hard in the Yellowhammer State to right the wrongs that were created by “prejudice and injustice against the descendents of slaves.” She added that Sessions led efforts to honor Rosa Parks, who Rice identified as a “personal hero.”
“I know that Sen. Sessions will uphold the laws of our great country and will work to ensure that every person here in the United States is given the voice that is deserved,” she wrote.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Rice served as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor before being promoted to Secretary of State. She held the post from 2005 until the end of the administration, and was the first African-American woman to lead the State Department.
Other notable leaders like South Carolina Senator Tim Scott have also made their support of Sessions known.
“I have gotten to know Jeff over my four years in the Senate, and have found him to be a consistently fair person,” Scott said. “I will continue working for what I believe is in the best interest of my state and my nation, such as criminal justice reform and stopping illegal immigration.”
Alabama Supreme Court okays seizure of Greentrack bingo machines
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Supreme Court of Alabama has granted the state’s request to seize 825 electronic bingo machines from the Greenetrack gambling facility, reversing the lower court’s decision.
The lower court ruled that the machines, initially seized in 2010, must be returned because they complied with a local constitutional amendment which carved out an electronic bingo gambling exception for Greene County. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that the devices constituted “illegal slot machines” under state law.
Alabama’s fight against gambling has a long and storied history, which has recently made its way into the electronic sphere. Bob Riley’s (R) administration famously took up the crusade against electronic bingo late in his tenure, a battle that is now championed by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R). Just this year, Strange worked to shut down sports websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel within the state’s borders.
Governors Don Seigelman (D) and Robert Bentley (R) both proposed lottery systems to solve the state incessant budgetary issues, but neither succeeded. Bentley’s initiative did not even make it to the ballot, while Siegelman’s failed to secure a majority of support from Alabamians.
Alabama Republican Party offers $1,000 for proof of voter fraud
The Alabama Republican Party has decided to up the ante when it comes to their ballot security operation. The ALGOP announced today that they are offering $1,000 to anyone who can provide information that directly leads to a felony conviction for voter fraud.
“‘Reward Stop Voter Fraud’ signs with our hotline number will be placed at random polling locations tomorrow and at all polling locations in November,” ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead explained. “Poll watchers trained by ALGOP staff will also be watching to ensure that Alabama’s election laws – including the new photo voter ID law – are not being violated. Our signs and poll watchers will send a clear message to those wishing to commit voter fraud. Anyone attempting to tamper with the election process will be caught and will be prosecuted.”
Tuesday’s elections are the first in which Alabama voters must show a photo ID to receive a ballot.
Numerous types of photo IDs can be used, including an Alabama driver’s license or non-driver ID, college ID, military ID, government employee ID, federal ID or passport. However, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office said in March that roughly 250,000 adults in the state did not at that time have any form of photo identification. Those individuals were given the opportunity to a acquire a free voter ID supplied by the state.
Liberals continue to say voter ID laws are an assault on the voting rights of minorities, while conservatives say its a necessary step to ensure the sanctity of elections.
RELATED: The debate over photo voter ID rages on as Alabama’s law goes into effect
Vice President Joe Biden went as far as to say that there is “hatred” behind Alabama’s photo voter ID law.
“These guys never go away,” Biden said of supporters of voter ID. “Hatred never, never goes away. The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.”
The Bentley Administration responded, saying that Alabama has made great progress in recent years and assured voters that they “will not tolerate discrimination in Alabama.”
True The Vote, a national organization dedicated to maintaining the integrity of U.S. elections, released some startling statistics about voter fraud recently:
- More than 24 million voter registrations are invalid yet remain on the rolls nationally
- More than 1.8 million dead voters are still on the rolls nationally
- More than 2.75 million Americans are registered to vote in more than one state
Additionally, we recently learned that four counties in Alabama had more registered voters than total population.
“Every voter should be on the alert and watch for voter fraud tomorrow,” said Armistead. “Some of the most common violations include: not showing proper photo ID; voter solicitation within 30 feet of polling locations; passing out campaign literature or marked sample ballots within 30 feet of polling locations; poll worker voter intimidation and misinformation; vote buying; ballot stuffing; recording votes incorrectly; destruction or invalidation of ballots; and tampering with voting machines.”
He encouraged anyone who witnesses an instance of voter fraud to contact the voter fraud hotline at 844-AL-FRAUD (844-253-7283).
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims
Biden: There’s ‘hatred’ behind Alabama’s photo voter ID law
At a reception in honor of Black History Month on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said he hopes Congress will “modernize” the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to counter the “hatred” behind voter ID laws in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas.
Alabama’s photo voter ID law kicks in this year, but voters without photo identification have two options to get a free ID to meet the requirement. They can either go to the Dept. of Public Safety office in their county and acquire a free non-drivers ID card or go to their local Board of Registrars office to get a free photo ID there.
The United States Justice Department is currently suing North Carolina and Texas in an attempt to block their voter ID laws, arguing they discriminate against minorities.
“These guys never go away,” Biden said of supporters of voter ID. “Hatred never, never goes away. The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.”
Alabama has played a significant role in the history of U.S. voting laws.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed in response to racial discrimination in voting, which was prevalent in Alabama and other areas of the country for decades. Section 5 of the Act required certain states and local governments with a history of discrimination to receive “pre-clearance” by the U.S. Attorney General or a panel of U.S. District Court judges before making any changes to their voting laws or practices.
Shelby County, Ala. sued the U.S. Attorney General in 2011 claiming that portions of the Act were unconstitutional. The case ultimately made its way to the Supreme Court last year. The Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that the formula used to determine which areas were subjected to pre-clearance was unconstitutional, effectively gutting the law.
“Alabama has made tremendous progress over the past 50 years, and this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that progress,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said at the time. “We will not tolerate discrimination in Alabama.”
But a group of federal lawmakers in January introduced a bill in response to the Court’s decision. Vice President Biden said on Tuesday that he hopes it will pass.
“This fight has been too long, this fight has been too hard, to do anything other than win,” he said.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims
INSIDE BASEBALL: Bentley Opposes Legislature Restructuring Bills, Senators Still Feeling it Out
Inside baseball is a new tag on Yellowhammer Politics that will accompany posts that deal with issues that are probably of more concern to inside Montgomery types than they are to the public at large. Wikipedia says “the phrase ‘inside baseball’ refers to a detail-oriented approach to the minutiae of a subject, which in turn requires such a specific knowledge about what is being discussed that the nuances are not understood or appreciated by outsiders.” All of this of course is in keeping with our goal to bring Yellowhammer readers the best behind-the-scenes info on Alabama Politics.
A quick google search also revealed that “Inside Baseball” was an old school magazine about professional baseball. So we’ll use this as an opportunity to put Alabama politicians’ heads on old baseball magazine covers…mainly because we may never have another excuse to do that.
As we mentioned in our “What to Watch for This Week” post, Sen. Jimmy Holley (R – Elba) has a couple of bills set to come to the floor Tuesday that would restructure and consolidate the legislature’s operations. SB112 proposes to change the way the Legislature exercises its oversight function of the administrative rulemaking process. SB122 reorganizes the legislative branch and creates a 12-member Joint Committee on Legislative Operations. The Joint Committee would assume the powers of five committees that currently exist.
Monday evening Governor Bentley made his concerns known regarding the two bills in their current form. According the multiple members of the Senate, Governor Bentley opposes the bills for the following reasons:
1) Concentration of power into the hands of 12 legislators to make significant decisions regarding state government rule changes
2) Removal of accountability by taking away the Merit System protection of the Examiners of Public Accounts and putting them under the control of the 12 legislators
3) Reversal of the current Administrative Procedures Act – this will not only create significant burden for the legislative council but also pose problems for any state agency attempting to receive approval for a rule change
Proponents of the bills say they cut the current number of separate entities in half, and establish more centralized oversight and accountability.
“While we are asking other state agencies to reorganize and consolidate, it’s important for us to show that the Legislature is taking the same steps to reduce costs and operate more efficiently,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said in a statement last week. “Senator Holley has put in countless hours of hard work on this issue during his tenure as a state lawmaker. I know it hasn’t been an easy task, but it’s vitally important in showing that we are leading by example.”
These two bills represent a major overhaul of legislative operations and Senate leadership expected the amendment process could possibly be lengthy. Governor Bentley’s opposition further ensures that the bills will see a healthy debate once they make it to the floor Tuesday. Yellowhammer spoke with several Senators Monday evening and it sounds like a good number of them have not yet decided where they’ll land on this one.
What else is going on?
1. Alabama Exports Hit New Record at $19.5 Billion
2. What to Watch for This Week
3. Alabama Policy Institute says Republican legislators are standing up for religious liberty
4. House Republicans had the best week in Montgomery…AEA, not so much.
And for you baseball fans, the above image is what Governor Bentley would have looked like as a young Mickey Mantle:
Sessions Warns Against Rush to Amnesty
According FoxNews.com’s coverage of the plan, the senators are seeking to accomplish four main goals:
1. Creating a path to citizenship for the estimated illegal immigrants already in the U.S., contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.
2. Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.
3. Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.
4. Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.
The 8 senators releasing the plan were Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Immigration has long been a hot button issue in Washington (and in Alabama, of course) and this plan promises to be met with strict scrutiny, especially when conservatives remain fractured on how to best address the issue of 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
“No one should be surprised that individuals who have supported amnesty in the past still support amnesty,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said. “By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”
And Smith is far from the only elected official voicing concerns with the plan. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions took to the floor of the Senate Monday to share his thoughts as well. “We would be in a much better position to achieve immigration reform if the Obama Administration had spent that last four years enforcing federal law rather than dismantling it,” Sessions said.
A video of Senator Sessions’ floor speech and the text of his statement can be found below. What’s your take? Do you support the plan outlined above? If Republicans support amnesty, will it help them with hispanic voters? What should conservatives propose to solve our immigration issues?
Statement from Senator Sessions:
“Americans overwhelmingly oppose illegal immigration. They have pleaded with Congress to end the mass illegality for decades to little avail. All the while, millions have been added to the total of those illegally here.
It’s time to fix that broken system. Now we are told that the Obama Administration and members of Congress say they have a plan that they promise will do the job. So, the American people will need to watch closely. And, members of Congress must insist that they have a full and complete opportunity to study and amend such legislation.
We would be in a much better position to achieve immigration reform if the Obama Administration had spent that last four years enforcing federal law rather than dismantling it. Brave immigration agents have been left with no recourse but to sue their own Department head, simply so that they—like any other law officers—will be allowed to do their jobs. Just last Friday a federal judge made an important preliminary ruling in their favor. The ICE union also held their own agency head, John Morton, in no confidence with a unanimous vote. The first task for every media agency in the country ought to be to study this lawsuit, to listen to the long-documented complaints of ICE agents, and to review the record of stymied attempts at congressional oversight of DHS.
No comprehensive plan can pass Congress as long as this administration continues to defy existing federal law. What good are promises of future enforcement when the Administration covertly undermines those laws now in place?
Yet, without consulting the law officers who have the duty to enforce the law, another group of senators, meeting in secret—just like the last time comprehensive reform failed—have set forth an outline with no legislative language. We have seen too often before that the promises made by bill sponsors do not match up to the reality when the language is produced. No secret accord with profound consequences for this nation’s future can be rushed through. That means a full committee process and debate and amendments on the floor of the Senate.
Several points need to be understood. Amnesty will not help balance our budget. In fact, a large-scale amnesty is likely to add trillions of dollars to the debt over time, accelerate Medicare’s and Social Security’s slide into insolvency, and put enormous strain on our public assistance programs. We know already that the administration refuses to enforce existing law restricting immigrant welfare use, and in fact promotes expanded welfare use to immigrants—including food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid. I joined with four Ranking Members to obtain answers from the Department of Homeland Security about this evisceration of law, and the Administration has suspiciously defied three consecutive oversight requests.
These and other critical issues must be carefully considered as we go forward. Certainly, our current system is broken. Work must be done to fix it. That effort must occur.
All Americans, immigrant and native born, will have a better future if American continues to stand unique among nations for the special reverence it places in the rule of law.”
Alabama Supreme Court Undermines Property Rights
At the end of 2012, while Alabama families were focused on the holidays, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an opinion that undermined private property rights in Alabama and created a significant deterrent to economic investment in the state.
In 2003 and 2004, M&N Materials, Inc. purchased property in an unincorporated area of Madison County with the intention of operating a quarry. Because the M&N property was adjacent to but outside of the corporate limits of the town of Gurley, residents who opposed the quarry could not stop M&N from using their private property in a manner consistent with their business.
One of the residents of Gurley, Stan Simpson, lived only a mile away from the M&N property. Simpson, who would later become Mayor of Gurley, was determined to prevent M&N from operating their business, so he enlisted the help of State Senator Lowell Barron and State Representative Albert Hall to stop the quarry.
During the 2004 session, the Legislature passed a relatively discreet act that permitted the annexation of M&N’s property “if approved by a majority of the qualified electors residing in the existing corporate limits of the municipality of Gurley.” The Alabama Supreme Court noted, “According to Simpson, the purpose of the annexation was to give the Town control over the use of the property.”
Not surprisingly, the annexation proposal passed by a vote of 101-23.
Shortly thereafter, Gurley denied a business license to M&N while they “conduct[ed] a study to determine the best use for the land.” Ultimately M&N sold the property, retaining certain mining royalties, to Vulcan Lands for almost $3 million dollars less than a previously agreed option price. On January 18, 2005, Vulcan Lands applied for a quarrying license on the property now annexed into the Town of Gurley. The same night, Mayor Simpson led the Town council to rezone the property as agricultural, effectively ending the possibility of mining the property and preventing royalty payments to M&N.
As a result of the annexation and subsequent zoning shift, M&N sued the Town of Gurley, and the case made its way to the Alabama Supreme Court. The court ultimately found that “Alabama does not recognize as compensable a regulatory ‘taking'” under the Alabama Constitution.
In a state with such negative feelings about government intrusion onto private property, Alabamians should be shocked that the popularly-elected Supreme Court would issue an opinion permitting state and local government to intentionally restrict and devalue private property without any financial responsibility to the property owner.
Many other state constitutions with provisions similar to the Alabama Constitution and the U.S. Constitution have been interpreted to require compensation for such regulatory takings.
Essentially, the Alabama Supreme Court has sent a message that, absent a physical damage or confiscation, Alabama does not protect its citizens from government injury to their property. This does not mean that Alabama’s state and local governments should be prevented from re-zoning or even condemning property. Rather, property owners should have the legal recourse to ensure that they are justly compensated for such actions.
Private property rights are not limited to mere possession. Alabamians should reasonably expect the right to include the ability to enjoy and transfer their property as they see fit without fear of total financial loss from the government devaluing or limiting the use of that property.
One of the cornerstones of America’s free market system and a virtual requirement for economic growth is the continued preservation of strong property rights. By undercutting those rights, the Alabama Supreme Court has both removed an important safeguard to the personal liberties of Alabamians and placed the state at a significant economic disadvantage to sister states with stronger property protections.
If the Alabama Supreme Court does not reconsider its opinion, the State Legislature must afford Alabamians an opportunity to reclaim their property rights with a constitutional amendment requiring Alabama’s state and local governments to provide reasonable compensation for the impacts of their administrative and regulatory decisions on private property.
Cameron Smith is Policy Director and General Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.