State of Alabama continues to appeal Obama appointee’s last-minute changes to July 14 election
At least for now, a controversial federal court opinion issued last week will hold regarding Alabama’s voting process for the upcoming July 14 primary runoff election.
As previously reported by Yellowhammer News, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama Abdul K. Kallon issued a memorandum opinion striking down certain absentee balloting requirements for the runoff. Not only did the appointee of then-President Barack Obama strike down the requirements only for certain demographics, but that aspect of the order only affects three of Alabama’s 67 counties: Jefferson, Mobile and Lee. The relevant requirements are viewed by many as safeguards against voter fraud.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, as the chief elections official in the state, was named as the lead defendant in the case. He told Yellowhammer News last week that the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the State and the rest of the defendants in the case, would appeal Kallon’s order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
The AG’s office did indeed appeal and also asked the 11th Circuit for a stay of Kallon’s order with the runoff quickly approaching.
On Thursday afternoon, it was announced that a panel of three judges from the 11th Circuit denied the request for a stay. This means that Kallon’s order, as of Thursday, is still in effect. However, the defendants’ appeal is still pending before the 11th Circuit, meaning things could still change before the election.
“Even though our stay was denied, the case is still under review and our appeal is still under consideration by the Eleventh Circuit,” Merrill said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.
“The preliminary injunction entered June 15, 2020 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama is in full force and effect as it relates to the July 14 Primary Runoff Election,” he outlined. “However, this injunction only applies to Jefferson, Lee, and Mobile counties.”
“We are committed to preserving the integrity and credibility of the electoral process and protecting the opportunity for every eligible Alabama voter to participate in our elections in an unobstructed way,” Merrill concluded.
The panel that denied the defendants’ request for a stay was comprised of two Obama appointees (Judges Jill Pryor and Robin Rosenbaum) and one appointee of President Donald Trump (Judge Britt Grant).
While all three judges concurred in the result of denying the petition for a stay, Grant seemed open to the defendants’ position on the appeal itself.
“I have serious concerns about the order under review, which is dramatic both in its disregard for Alabama’s constitutional authority and in its confidence in the court’s own policymaking judgments,” she wrote. “The State has responded to the very real COVID-19 threat by moving its election date, dramatically expanding absentee ballot access through an emergency regulation, and taking other steps to maintain safe polling places. The Supreme Court has emphasized time and time again that federal courts should not jump in to change the rules on the eve of an election.”
Grant added that “a dangerous virus does not give the federal courts unbridled authority to second-guess and interfere with a State’s election rules.”
“No one in this litigation disagrees that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a grave threat. Alabama took serious steps to ensure that its citizens could safely vote—more than some States, less than others. But the district court’s order uses the State’s legislative and administrative grace against it, concluding that because the State has made some changes, it is constitutionally obligated to make others,” the judge concluded.
The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) are involved in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs: People First of Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama NAACP.
A Thursday release from the SPLC celebrated the denial of the stay as a “huge win.”
“This is an important win for Alabama voters at-risk for COVID-19,” stated Caren Short, senior SPLC staff attorney. “As cases continue to surge across the state — disproportionately impacting Black Alabamians — it is critical that those most at-risk from COVID-19 can vote safely.”
Merrill’s office advised that a different 11th Circuit panel will hear the appeal than the panel that denied the stay.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn