The Alabama Legislature and the state’s biggest city are never going to truly see eye-to-eye because the politics and the demographics are too different. But when Birmingham decided to increase its minimum wage in 2016, the state Legislature asserted its control over the city in a way that many viewed as heavy-handed and anti-conservative. Birmingham pushed back with a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. A judge blew that up, but the city appealed to a circuit judge. The argument for this case by those who want Birmingham to be able to do their own thing is that as a majority-black city, a majority-white legislature can’t tell them what to do. Bloomberg News lays out their argument:
“The law effectively ‘transfers all control to legislators elected by the statewide majority-white electorate’ and takes away the power of local officials in majority-black cities, opponents of the measure argued in a June 2017 brief to the appeals court. They allege the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the non-discrimination provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act,” wrote Bloomberg’s Chris Marr.
Why this matters: Precedent. If a lawsuit of this nature is successful, the city of Birmingham can literally do whatever it wants. Not only will Birmingham be free to do as it wishes on the minimum wage, but they will also have control over matters of gun control, immigration, and monument protection (all matters the city of Birmingham has signaled they would like to act upon). The real-world impact of an adverse ruling for the state of Alabama would be that cities like Montgomery and Selma could make the same argument on any law they don’t like. What about cities like Detroit, and Atlanta? Cities around the country could become completely disconnected from the states in which they live. The laws passed by state legislatures will be undone by city councils, creating a fracture that will be seized upon by city leaders and will lead to these cities being states within states.
— Alabama is one of 5 states without a minimum wage law. The state goes off the federal minimum wage.
— Zero states have a majority-black population. If Birmingham is successful, every majority-black municipality has an argument against state-wide laws they oppose.
— As of 2016, five states are majority–minority populations, they are Hawaii, New Mexico, California, Texas and Nevada.
— Washington D.C. has a majority-black population. Its “home rule” exists “at the pleasure” of the majority-white United States Congress and can be revoked at any time.