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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: 263023

Reported Deaths: 5752
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17675191
Hinds16813331
Harrison14224204
Rankin11167219
Jackson10839190
Lee9050144
Madison8568168
Jones6668114
Forrest6177124
Lauderdale6097192
Lowndes5518120
Lafayette516298
Lamar503965
Washington4923125
Bolivar4104109
Oktibbeha405982
Panola384881
Pontotoc376258
Warren3674103
Monroe3671108
Union355663
Marshall355270
Neshoba3485154
Pearl River3468105
Leflore3111109
Lincoln305688
Hancock291862
Sunflower291475
Tate279662
Alcorn272354
Pike268981
Itawamba268063
Scott259648
Yazoo255256
Prentiss252553
Tippah249250
Copiah249049
Coahoma248054
Simpson242171
Leake237367
Grenada223272
Marion222073
Covington219973
Adams213671
Wayne212634
Winston207371
George204339
Newton199046
Attala196963
Tishomingo194161
Chickasaw189044
Jasper179538
Holmes171768
Clay165837
Tallahatchie156235
Stone151425
Clarke147262
Calhoun140822
Smith129226
Yalobusha122034
Walthall114337
Greene113529
Noxubee112926
Montgomery111636
Carroll106622
Lawrence106517
Perry104531
Amite101426
Webster96124
Tunica88821
Claiborne88325
Jefferson Davis88329
Benton85623
Humphreys84624
Kemper80520
Quitman7089
Franklin69917
Choctaw63213
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45117
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 439442

Reported Deaths: 6657
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson644371007
Mobile31435569
Madison28158217
Tuscaloosa21492275
Montgomery19873332
Shelby19248132
Baldwin17128189
Lee13137107
Morgan12594142
Etowah12070181
Calhoun11496206
Marshall10420123
Houston8988164
Limestone832081
Cullman8257124
Elmore8183110
DeKalb7871107
Lauderdale7847107
St. Clair7808130
Talladega6445112
Walker6028183
Jackson599145
Colbert548694
Blount546286
Autauga535862
Coffee460764
Dale409685
Franklin374150
Russell354215
Chilton344373
Covington338580
Escambia334544
Tallapoosa3143109
Dallas312996
Chambers303470
Clarke298036
Pike262431
Lawrence253355
Marion253161
Winston233342
Bibb222348
Geneva210247
Marengo208231
Pickens199531
Hale184944
Barbour180538
Fayette177829
Butler173160
Cherokee165131
Henry159525
Monroe152021
Randolph145536
Washington141727
Clay129746
Crenshaw123745
Macon121937
Cleburne121525
Lamar119922
Lowndes114836
Wilcox107922
Bullock103328
Perry99918
Conecuh97822
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63418
Choctaw51924
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