By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
A national Civil Rights law organization and a local Birmingham law firm on Friday filed a lawsuit challenging the Jefferson County Commission districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and Wiggins, Childs, Pantazis, Fisher & Goldfarb, on behalf of plaintiffs, allege that the Commission violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by unnecessarily “packing” Black voters into two super majority-Black commission districts (with over 75% Black populations) and moving Black voters out of other Commission Districts to prevent Black voters from having influence over the elections in the remaining three districts.
The suit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs who include Birmingham resident and activist Cara McClure, Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM), and the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.
Jefferson County said the districts were drawn based on population changes in its districts, and in “accordance with applicable law.”
County Attorney Theo Lawson, in a statement from the County’s public information office, said “Jefferson County has not yet been served with a lawsuit … As a matter of historical background, Jefferson County, pursuant to a Federal Consent Decree created five districts, two of which were drawn by design with majority African American voters to ensure African Americans would have two representatives of their choice in at least two districts. If we are served with a lawsuit we will review and respond appropriately in defense of the County’s actions.”
Kathryn Sadasivan, LDF assistant counsel, said, the commission not only rushed through a process that will determine the county’s districts for the next decade, “but they manipulated the districts to prevent Black, Latinx, and other voters from realizing their fair share of political power. This is a clear violation of the Constitution.”
Scott Douglas, Executive Director of GBM, said the vision of his group is one of a participatory, inclusive, and compassionate state and community “where power is equitable, transparent, and democratically accountable … we are taking action to create county commission districts that are equitable representations of the will and aspirations of Black voters and no longer pack or crack their votes in order to minimize their voices or dilute the impact of their voting in Jefferson County.”
“Packing” refers to placing people of color into the same district in greater numbers than necessary to elect candidates of choice to prevent them from exercising greater political power in surrounding districts.
Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton said, “the Jefferson County Commission “for over a decade … has packed Black voters into two Commission districts, ensuring that communities of color have less influence on the Commission than they would have under a fair system.”
Read the complaint filed against the Jefferson County Commission here.