Thursday, September 22, 2011

Voting Rights Act Withstands a Challenge in the Deep South

Legal Schnauzer

The days of men wearing hoods and burning crosses seem to have mostly passed here in the Deep South. But they have been replaced by the days of men filing dubious lawsuits, funded by mysterious organizations.

That seems to be the take-home lesson from an effort in Shelby County, Alabama, to free itself from U.S. Justice Department oversight of its elections. The Shelby County Commission, in a lawsuit funded by a shadowy nonprofit group, claimed that portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unnecessary, burdensome, and unfair.

A federal judge yesterday ruled against Shelby County, finding that Congress had ample evidence that minority rights at the ballot box need continued monitoring. Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to extend the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. Shelby County's lawsuit challenged that decision, but U.S. District Judge John Bates said Congress was well within its rights.

This case hits close to home because I live in Shelby County, Alabama, and for four-plus years, I've presented detailed evidence on this blog about the blatant corruption of a "justice system" that regularly tramples constitutional rights. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have been targeted by rogue judges and lawyers in Shelby County, even though we are white. We long have suspected that dysfunction here, in Alabama's fastest growing county, is driven largely by what we called "race-based fears" or RBF.

After living in Shelby County for 22 years, we have come  to believe that true racism--an active desire to cause harm to, or rule over, those of a different race--is relatively rare here. But RBF is very much alive, and we suspect it drives the creation of a "justice system" that operates in a sick parallel universe. There are many intelligent, good-hearted people in Shelby County--although huge numbers of them are misguided enough to reflexively vote Republican--but the leadership here is an utter mess. The hierarchy in Shelby County consists mostly of people who have deep roots in the county, and they seem resentful of any change that might lead to equal opportunity for those who don't look or think like them.

In essence, the hierarchy seems to say, "We live here in order to get away from so many blacks and liberals who tolerate blacks, and we don't want the gubmint forcing us to change our ways. We are going to create our own set of rules and enforce them however we want."

Mrs. Schnauzer and I don't wear our politics or our religion on our sleeves. But we suspect that our neighbors, and their contacts in the legal field, picked up early on that we were somehow "different"--that we didn't go to a certain suburban mega church, that we didn't vote Republican, that we didn't think the federal government was evil, that we didn't believe evolution was suspect or climate change was a hoax or Roe v. Wade was wrongfully decided--and we didn't believe black people were to be feared.

In short, we long have suspected that RBFs have largely driven our unpleasant journey through the Shelby County legal system. (More on that in upcoming posts.)

The notion that Shelby County needs less government oversight is preposterous--and we've seen that from first-hand experience. If anything, the county needs more federal intervention, starting with an investigation that surely would lead to numerous judges, lawyers, and sheriff's officials winding up in orange jumpsuits and leg irons.

We are pleased that Judge Bates evidently recognized that Shelby County, Alabama, is not nearly as far along as its leaders like to think. From The Birmingham News:
Officials in Shelby County had argued the law was unnecessary, burdensome and unfair and that Congress should not have reauthorized it for another 25 years.

"Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that virtually unprecedented legislative record, the Court concludes that 'current needs' -- the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting -- do, in fact, justify Congress's 2006 reauthorization of the preclearance requirement imposed on covered jurisdictions by Section 5, as well as the preservation of the traditional coverage formula embodied in Section 4(b)," according to the order today from U.S. District Judge John Bates.

Bates sided with the U.S. Justice Department and several others who intervened to defend the Voting Rights Law.

"Understanding the preeminent constitutional role of Congress under the Fifteenth Amendment to determine the legislation needed to enforce it, and the caution required of the federal courts when undertaking the 'grave' and 'delicate' responsibility of judging the constitutionality of such legislation -- particularly where the right to vote and racial discrimination intersect -- this Court declines to overturn Congress's carefully considered judgment," he wrote.

If Shelby County officials felt so strongly about their case, why didn't they fund their own lawsuit. Instead, something called the Project for Fair Representation funded the case, allowing Shelby County to more or less play with "house money."

What on earth is the Project for Fair Representation and why did it get involved with Shelby CountyThe New York Times provided important insight, from a piece back in February:

Shelby County is a largely white, heavily Republican (John McCain received 76 percent of the vote there in the 2008 presidential election) central Alabama county that includes part of Birmingham. Its effort to have Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional is being financed by a Virginia-based organization called the Project on Fair Representation, which according to its Web site exists to provide pro bono representation to “political subdivisions and individuals that wish to challenge government distinctions and preferences made on the basis of race and ethnicity.” On the subject of voting, the group’s mission is “reforming those provisions of the Voting Rights Act and other laws that encourage and mandate the creation of racially gerrymandered voting districts.” (That is hardly an accurate description of the Voting Rights Act, given that the Supreme Court, in a series of cases beginning with Shaw v. Reno in 1993 has declared that districts drawn for purely racial reasons are unconstitutional. But my point here is to describe the origins of the current lawsuit, so I’ll move on.)

What kind of outfit was Shelby County quick to jump in bed with? Again, from The New York Times:

The Project on Fair Representation, in turn, is financed by an organization called DonorsTrust, the goal of which is to “promote liberty through limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise.” An affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund, has channeled millions of dollars to the State Policy Network, which describes itself as a group of “state-based freedom fighters working to stop the expansion of the federal government and return power back to individuals.” Whitney L. Ball, president and chief executive of DonorsTrust, serves on the boards of the State Policy Network and Donors Capital Fund.

Where on earth did these groups come from and who is behind them?The Times provides links that help answer that question:


Donors Capital Fund

State Policy Network

Whitney L. Ball

We suspect progressive groups would be wise to keep an eye on these outfits and individuals. Meanwhile, it looks like the effort to use Shelby County, Alabama, to attack the Voting Rights Act is going to fail.

Be sure to visit Legal Schnauzer for updates on this issue

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