Despite accounting for more than one-quarter of the state’s population, African-Americans rarely get elected to the state’s highest courts – a situation advocacy groups want to change by ending statewide judicial elections. Their argument got a boost this week after a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss a lawsuit brought last fall by the NAACP of Alabama and The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organizations filed suit against the state of Alabama and Secretary of State John Merrill. The lawsuit alleges that the practice of holding statewide elections for Alabama’s 19 appellate judges disenfranchises black voters. Instead, civil rights groups propose creating districts for elections, increasing the odds for black candidates in majority-black districts.
“We will now continue to aggressively litigate this case to achieve a remedy that gives African American voters a real opportunity to elect members to these courts which play such important parts in their lives,” said Ezra Rosenberg of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights under Law in a statement.
Alabama has three appellate courts – the state Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals. All 19 members of those courts are white. Three black judges have served on those courts and two have won statewide elections for seats. The courts have been all-white for the last 16 years, according to the Lawyer’s Committee.
Chief U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins rejected the argument that the state’s interest in maintaining the current system outweighed concerns about weakening the minority vote.