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: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845108

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161242006
Mobile741961379
Madison53291732
Shelby38328368
Baldwin38074589
Tuscaloosa36017641
Montgomery34483781
Lee25557263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22454406
Etowah20016517
Marshall18781316
Houston17729425
St. Clair16880358
Limestone16138218
Cullman16050303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14984306
Talladega14191299
DeKalb12971269
Walker12029380
Blount10715192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10161194
Coffee9415192
Colbert9341208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7255201
Russell707865
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5403130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317763
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 41°
Columbus
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 37°
Oxford
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 42°
Starkville
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 36°
High pressure will continue to control our weather forecast for the next several days. This will keep our area filled with plenty of sunshine. We will see both daytime highs and overnight lows gradually get milder and warmer.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather