MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s practice of picking its appellate judges in statewide elections results in all-white courts in a state where one in four people is African-American, civil rights activists claim in a lawsuit that will soon come before a federal judge.
Oral arguments are scheduled next month in Montgomery in the 2016 lawsuit filed by the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and four black voters. The lawsuit contends the at-large method of electing judges violates the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution because it dilutes the voting power of African Americans in the state and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.
“Today, in 2019, all 19 of Alabama’s most powerful judges are white. This is the colorline in Alabama: a racially segregated judiciary where Blacks can be elected only to lower court positions,” lawyers for plaintiffs in the case wrote in a brief filed Monday.
Plaintiffs are asking a judge to order the state to switch to elections by districts, or another method.
The state will file its closing brief later this month. In earlier court filings the state argued that judges should be accountable to all Alabama voters, and not just certain districts, and that political party preference, not race, is the overriding factor. Plaintiffs argued that Alabama’s history “shows that its shift to one-party Republican control was driven principally by race.”
The oral arguments next month will be the culmination of the lawsuit filed in 2016. A federal judge heard evidence in a bench trial that ended in November.
Alabama’s appellate judges run in statewide partisan elections, just like the governor, attorney general and other top officials. The appellate courts in Alabama are all-white and all-Republican and have been for years.
There has never been a black judge on the criminal and civil appeals courts. There have been three black judges on the Alabama Supreme Court but all were first appointed by governors.
“No African American has won an election for the Alabama Supreme Court without first being appointed to office by the Governor_and that has only occurred three times in almost 200 years,” lawyers for plaintiffs wrote in their closing brief.
The lawsuit is similar to one in Texas filed on behalf of several Hispanic voters. A judge in September ruled in favor of the state in that case.