ACLU intervening in county’s Voting Rights Act challenge

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion June 22 in federal court to intervene in Shelby County’s challenge against the constitutionality of sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act forbids cities and towns in nine states, including Alabama, from making any changes in voting practices or procedures without approval from the federal government. The county filed suit to challenge those sections of the act on April 27.

The ACLU is charging that Sections 4(b) and 5 should remain in place. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Shelby County voters Bobby Pierson, Willie Goldsmith Sr., Mary Paxton-Lee and Kenneth Dukes, according to a press release.

The ACLU is claiming Shelby County, along with cities in the county, have tried to get around the Section 5 requirement by implementing election plans designed to lessen the minority vote.

The organization specifically referred to when the city of Calera failed to get U.S. Department of Justice clearance for new voting districts before holding city council elections. The new voting districts eliminated the only black-majority voting district, and Councilman Ernest Montgomery, a black man, lost his seat by two votes.

After the voting districts returned to their original configuration and a new election was held, Montgomery won his seat back.

“Every eligible voter in Alabama, regardless of race, has the right to have his or her vote count,” said Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP. “Unfortunately, we have seen that the danger of minority disenfranchisement persists. Section 5 is an important part of ensuring equal access to voting is protected.”

Shelby County Attorney Butch Ellis said the county welcomes opposing views.

“We certainly don’t object to anybody expressing their views on the legal merit of the Shelby County challenge to Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Ellis said. “It’s a pure legal question if Sections 4(b) and 5 are legal, are constitutional, or they’re not.”

Ellis said the county is simply looking to get an answer as quickly as possible.

“We want to get it straight to the court and let the court rule on it,” Ellis said.

Goldsmith and Dukes refused the opportunity to comment. Attempts to reach Pierson were unsuccessful, and a number could not be found for Paxton-Lee.