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Jefferson County (AL) Headed to Trial in Federal Court Over Lawsuit From Black Voters  


By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected Jefferson County’s attempts to dismiss a case challenging the commission’s districts as racial gerrymandering and set a scheduling conference for the county and plaintiffs for Jan. 11, 2024.

The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Jefferson County voter Cara McClure, Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM), and the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP challenged the Jefferson County Commission districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

The plaintiffs alleged 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 percent 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.

On Tuesday, U.S, District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala, in her 30-page order wrote that plaintiffs “plausibly allege that the Commission, in redistributing voters to achieve population equivalence among Jefferson County’s five single-member districts, removed Black voters from the three predominantly white districts – Districts 3, 4, and 5 – and placed those Black voters in the county’s two majority Black districts, Districts 1 and 2.

“The plaintiffs’ claims against the Commission shall proceed,” she wrote.

Both sides said they look forward to a trial.

“We put forward very strong evidence that the judge found persuasive, that we plausibly demonstrated that the Commission wasn’t actually following traditional redistricting principles, that they were focusing on the race of particular voters to move in and out of the majority Black districts and they didn’t even for once consider not packing those two districts,” said Kathryn Sadasivan, lead counsel for LDF.

She added that the judge “saw the real harm that we have alleged and she was concerned and that we need to proceed with this matter to trial and ensure that a fair map is in place.”

The plaintiffs argued that “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. “As a result of the Commission’s actions over at least the last decade, no Black candidate has ever won in Districts 3, 4, or 5, despite the recent electoral success of Black voters and candidates in numerous countywide elections,” the plaintiffs contended.

County Attorney Theo Lawson said, “Jefferson County appreciates the court’s ruling to move forward with the suit and looks forward to defending these actions in court.”

Cara McClure, represented by LDF and the lead plaintiff said the Court’s decision to swiftly move forward with the case “and to reject attempts at blocking our access to justice fills me with hope. It’s crucial that the voices of every member of our community are not only heard but also genuinely reflected in Jefferson County’s redistricting. We deserve to be accurately represented, and it’s time our voices play a central role in shaping this process,” McClure said.

Haikala set a scheduling conference by Zoom on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.