ACLU attorney: Shelby County’s loss is victory for its voters

Published 1:13 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

A federal judge’s ruling against Shelby County’s challenge to portions of the Voting Right Act is a victory for county voters, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project said Wednesday afternoon.

“We would say a victory for all voters, but definitely in the terms of protecting the unique interests of minority voters,” said Nancy Abudu, a senior staff attorney who worked the case on behalf of about 10 Shelby County residents opposed to the county’s challenge.

Abudu made her comments hours after U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissed Shelby County’s lawsuit against the Justice Department.

The county’s challenge concerned sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids cities and towns in nine states, including Alabama, from making any changes in voting practices or procedures without approval from the federal government.

Burns ruled with a 151-page opinion.

“The length of the order shows how carefully the district court considered all the evidence that was presented,” Abudu said. “A lot of that evidence came from the congressional hearings and people who testified and data that was submitted to show why the issue of racial discrimination in voting continues to exist.”

Shelby County Attorney Butch Ellis, who was not immediately available for comment, has previously said the case was destined for the Supreme Court, regardless of the outcome in district court.

“We’re not surprised that it may go to the Supreme Court,” Abudu said. “There’s a similar section 5 challenge coming out of North Carolina as well, and with redistricting on the statewide level underway, we expect that we’ll probably see similar challenges like this. It’s just a matter of time before the Supreme Court takes this question again.”