The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint] Wednesday against the state of Alabama, alleging that the at-large election format for state appellate judges and justices is racially discriminatory [AL.com report]. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four African American voters and the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, is seeking the elimination of the format, and provides multiple replacement options, due to the practical effect of watering down the voting power of African Americans. Despite making up over a quarter of the state’s population, an African American has never served on the criminal or civil appellate courts, and only three have served as justices on the Supreme Court in the last 36 years. The lawsuit also cites the state’s extensive history of discrimination through voting practices, stating that the makeup of the appellate court’s is as diverse as when the Voting Rights Act was signed. Although the lawsuit calls for immediate replacement of the election format, a favorable decision for the plaintiffs still would not take effect in time to effect the elections of four new judges this year.
Voting rights remain a controversial legal issue in the US. The US Supreme Court [official website] earlier this month denied a motion to reinstate [JURIST report] North Carolina’s recently overturned law that limited early voting to 10 days and required voters to present approved identification cards, after the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] portions of the law upon finding discriminatory intent primarily concerning black state residents. Last month an Oklahoma County judge upheld a controversial voter identification law [JURIST report] allowing the law to be in place while early voting commenced for a primary run-off. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in December 2015 asking Alabama to loosen the discriminatory burdens resulting from their voter photo identification law.