MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A trial has begun in a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s practice of electing appellate judges by statewide vote, a method that plaintiffs say results in all-white courts in a state where one in four people is African-American.
The trial began this week in federal court in Montgomery and is expected to last several more days.
The 2016 lawsuit contends the practice of at-large judicial elections violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of African-American citizens. Plaintiffs argue the result is no minority representation on the three appellate courts that “render enormously consequential decisions that profoundly affect the lives of all Alabamians”
The state in court filings argued that the process is not racially discriminatory and that judges, unlike legislators who are elected by districts, should be accountable to all Alabama voters and not just certain areas of the state.
Alabama’s appellate judges run statewide for election, 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 a number of years.
The only African-American candidates ever elected to statewide office in Alabama — former justices Oscar Adams and Ralph Cook — were both elected to the state’s Supreme Court. However, both were initially appointed to the court by governors, so they had the power of incumbency in their campaigns. Their elections were decades ago when the Democratic Party was a greater force in state politics.
The court has been all-white for 17 years.
The lawsuit was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the Alabama NAACP and four black voters.