Alabama: Keep statewide elections for appellate courts

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african american judge court gavel
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In a Monday court filing, Alabama asked a federal judge to uphold the state’s 150-year-old practice of electing appellate judges by statewide vote and reject a lawsuit’s claims that it is racially discriminatory.

A federal judge will hear arguments next month in a lawsuit that seeks to switch the judicial selections to elections by districts, or another method. The lawsuit contends the current method dilutes the voting power of black voters in Alabama and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.

Alabama appellate courts are all-white and all-Republican and have been for a number of years.

In a closing brief ahead of the oral argument, lawyers said appellate judges should be accountable to all Alabamians because they consider cases that “have a profound impact on the lives of all Alabamians.” The state suggested politics, and the state’s shift to the GOP, has led to the current all-white court.

“The record shows that to the extent that black candidates or black-supported candidates are unsuccessful, it is not on account of race but instead because those candidates are running as Democrats in a red state,” lawyers for the state wrote.

The state wrote that there is no evidence that the statewide method is rooted in racial discrimination.

“For 150 years, Alabama has used statewide popular elections to choose appellate judges. That choice was made in 1868 without the slightest hint of racial discrimination,” lawyers for the state wrote.

The oral arguments next month will be the culmination of the lawsuit filed in 2016 by the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and four black voters. 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.

Currently, the courts are all-white in a state where one in four people is African American. 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.

“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 earlier this month
The Alabama 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.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.