Judge hears arguments on Alabama's method of electing judges

MGN Online

A federal judge is hearing arguments in the 2016 lawsuit that contents the election method dilutes the voting power of African Americans and prevents them from selecting their preferred candidates.

Posted: Aug 7, 2019 4:46 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Racial discrimination is at the root of an at-large election system that produces all-white appellate courts in Alabama, an attorney argued Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the system, but an opposing attorney said political party preference, rather than race, explains the outcome.

A federal judge in Montgomery heard arguments Wednesday in the 2016 lawsuit brought by the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and several black voters. They contend the election method violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of African Americans and preventing them from electing their preferred candidates.

The sweeping arguments covered racially polarized voting patterns, the state's Republican shift in the mid-1990s and the strategic decision by the two black judicial candidates who have won statewide elections to not show their faces in campaign materials.

Plaintiffs' attorneys displayed a pyramid with the faces of elected judges in Alabama. While the judges elected to lower local courts are racially diverse, the spots at the top of the pyramid — signifying the state's most important courts— are all white.

Plaintiffs' attorney Keith Harrison argued the system is rooted in racial discrimination and effectively creates a "color line" or "barrier" with all-white appellate courts in a state that's 26% black.

"The color line is created by the fact that the appellate courts are elected statewide in numbered place and at-large districts. African Americans don't have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. As a result, because we have racially polarized voting, blacks are never going to have an opportunity to elect anyone to the highest courts in the state," Harrison said after the hearing.

Alabama's appellate judges run in statewide partisan elections, just like the governor, attorney general and other top officials. Only two African-American judges have ever elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and none have been elected to the civil and criminal appellate courts. The state Supreme Court has been all-white for nearly 20 years.

Assistant Attorney General Jim Davis argued political party preference and political issues are the main reasons that determine who gets elected to the court. Most black candidates run as Democrats in the conservative state, he said.

"It's not race. It's party and it's issues," Davis said. "The voters in Alabama know which party is pro-life. The voters in Alabama know which party is pro-Second Amendment."

Davis argued that evidence suggests a majority of state voters would support a black judicial candidate if he or she ran as a conservative Republican. Davis also noted that the court has not always been entirely white and black judicial candidates, "have been elected under this system."

Harrison countered that testimony in the case indicated that the two African-American judges elected to the state Supreme Court felt the need to run "stealth campaigns" that didn't show their faces to voters. He said minority candidates who don't run such stealth campaigns end up losing their statewide elections.

"How racially polarized do you have to be to hide your face?" Harrison asked.

Plaintiffs have suggested Alabama should use district elections as some other states do. The state argued statewide elections are appropriate because judges should be accountable to all Alabama and not just slices of it.

The oral arguments came after a bench trial that ended in November. U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins did not indicate when he would rule.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall watched the arguments in federal court, but said he could not comment on the pending case.

The Alabama lawsuit is similar to one in Texas filed on behalf of several Hispanic voters. A judge in September ruled in favor of Texas in that case, and the state said a similar result is appropriate in Alabama. Harrison said Texas is less racially polarized than Alabama because of the number of Hispanic Republicans.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 350070

Reported Deaths: 7590
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds24512449
DeSoto23513283
Harrison21172335
Rankin15798293
Jackson15735254
Madison11171227
Lee10903180
Jones9223169
Forrest9027163
Lauderdale8087244
Lamar724890
Lowndes7199152
Lafayette6631125
Washington5661140
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Bolivar5004134
Warren4817128
Panola4812112
Marshall4739106
Pontotoc452473
Hancock440388
Neshoba4401181
Union438979
Monroe4369138
Lincoln4228116
Pike3739114
Leflore3676125
Alcorn355374
Tate354988
Sunflower351094
Adams347490
Scott346677
Yazoo342977
Copiah330869
Simpson327191
Itawamba317281
Coahoma315685
Tippah312869
Prentiss302563
Covington302384
Marion289882
Leake288676
Wayne280945
George277351
Grenada272188
Newton266864
Tishomingo240770
Winston238084
Stone235338
Jasper234748
Attala228674
Chickasaw221460
Holmes202574
Clay201954
Clarke189580
Tallahatchie185642
Calhoun183232
Smith183036
Yalobusha173641
Walthall150449
Lawrence145426
Greene141935
Amite139144
Noxubee137235
Perry136138
Montgomery133944
Carroll127031
Webster124332
Jefferson Davis119834
Tunica116127
Benton107825
Claiborne105931
Kemper104429
Humphreys102333
Franklin88424
Quitman86319
Choctaw83119
Wilkinson79332
Jefferson72228
Sharkey51918
Issaquena1746
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 592417

Reported Deaths: 11542
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson861091591
Mobile49771865
Madison37714533
Shelby27501259
Tuscaloosa27344465
Montgomery26343628
Baldwin25860329
Lee17336181
Calhoun15498334
Morgan15225291
Etowah15060370
Marshall13198236
Houston12191293
Elmore10977219
St. Clair10852252
Limestone10816158
Cullman10610206
Lauderdale10305254
DeKalb9594192
Talladega9005188
Walker7840288
Autauga7615114
Jackson7431117
Blount7417139
Colbert6752142
Coffee6443132
Dale5723117
Russell482243
Chilton4810117
Covington4804125
Franklin462781
Tallapoosa4571156
Escambia451083
Chambers3987125
Dallas3751163
Clarke372263
Marion3470107
Pike334079
Lawrence3277100
Winston300773
Bibb292865
Geneva288383
Marengo262967
Barbour253761
Pickens247762
Butler242472
Hale236778
Fayette228165
Henry216545
Monroe204541
Randolph202844
Cherokee200748
Washington186839
Macon171552
Crenshaw170658
Clay167159
Cleburne161845
Lamar151938
Lowndes146255
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh122132
Coosa119529
Perry111228
Sumter110633
Greene99337
Choctaw64425
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