Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and four individual black voters alleging that the method of electing Alabama’s most powerful judges violates the Voting Rights Act. The suit maintains that Alabama’s statewide method of electing members of the Alabama Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals deprives the African-American community of the ability to elect any judges of their choice. Currently, all 19 of Alabama’s appellate judges are white.
“In 2016, Alabama’s appellate courts are no more diverse than they were when the Voting Rights Act was signed more than 50 years ago,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “It is time for the highest courts in the state of Alabama to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. This lawsuit seeks to provide African-American voters an equal opportunity to elect judges of their choice, achieve long overdue compliance with the Voting Rights Act and instill greater public confidence in the justice system of Alabama.”
The Supreme Court of Alabama has nine members and is the state’s court of last resort. Alabama’s intermediate appellate courts, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Civil Appeals, each has five members. All 19 judges are elected statewide. Because white Alabamians comprise the majority of the voting age population in the state, and because of racially polarized voting, black-preferred candidates are consistently defeated in elections involving the highest levels of the state’s judiciary. Such vote dilution is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act and the state could easily devise a fairer electoral system.
The Lawyers’ Committee filed today’s suit in partnership with James Blacksher and Edward Still, two long-time Alabama civil rights attorneys, Montgomery-based attorney J. Mitch McGuire, as well as with pro bono counsel Crowell & Moring LLP and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and is part of the Lawyers’ Committee’s national initiative to bring state courts into compliance with the Voting Rights Act and promote judicial diversity. On July 20, 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee and another set of partners filed a similar suit alleging that the statewide method of electing Texas’s most powerful judges violates the Voting Rights Act.