Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Latest Print Edition of Southern Changes is Now Available

In This Issue:

  • Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in University Admissions
  • Landmark Voting Rights Victories in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina
  • The Limits of Partisan Gerrymandering
  •  Andrew McDowd “Mac” Secrest, Heroic Southern Journalist (Part Three)
  •  Mignon K.C. Morrison Receives 2016 Lillian Smith Book Award

    To obtain your copy, contact the Southern Regional Council at or click here. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Alabama Found Guilty of Racial Gerrymandering

Image result for racial gerrymandering in AlabamaAlabama Black Caucus v. Alabama

By Leland Ware

Not since the Reconstruction era of the late 19th Century have efforts to suppress the African American vote been greater. On January 20, 2017, a three-judge federal district court ruled that Alabama’s legislature engaged in racial gerrymandering when it enacted a redistricting plan in 2012. The ruling is a victory in the state’s Legislative Black Caucus’ fight against redistricting plans that undermine the voting strength of African Americans.

Alabama’s Constitution requires the lawmakers to redraw legislative districts after every 10-year census. The districts that were challenged are part of a plan developed by the Republican-dominated legislature after the 2010 Census. Republicans won a majority in the legislature in 2010 and approved a new districting plan in 2012. Alabama’s Legislative Black Caucus and others sued, claiming that the plan packed large numbers of black voters into majority-minority districts in ways that reduced their influence in other districts.

To succeed on a claim of racial gerrymandering, the plaintiffs must prove that race was the predominant consideration in deciding to place a significant number of voters in or outside of a specific district. If the plaintiffs prove that racial considerations predominated, the defendants must prove that their consideration of race was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

In this case a three-judge trial court ruled in the state’s favor in 2013, but the U.S. Supreme reversed that ruling in 2015. It held that Alabama intentionally adopted a policy of putting race above all other districting criteria except the one-person one-vote principle. The Court also found that the district court’s analysis of the gerrymandering claim, which considered the state as a whole rather than district-by-district, was legally erroneous. The case was sent back to the district court. In the January 20th decision the trial court ruled for the plaintiffs on 12 of the 36 districts in dispute. The court ruled in the state’s favor on the other 24 districts.

Redistricting is an extremely contentious issue. The Voting Rights Act requires legislatures to take race into consideration when drawing district lines. However, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment prevents race from being the predominant factor in redistricting decisions absent a compelling justification for doing so. Legislatures must balance the requirement of not reducing the number of minority-majority districts with the prohibition against making race the primary consideration in drawing lines.

In December of 2016 the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning racial gerrymanders in North Carolina and Virginia. One case involves a Virginia legislative map that was redrawn after the 2010 census. Twelve districts for the State House were drawn to attain a 55% black voting age population. Legal challenges contended that the maps packed African-Americans in some districts and diluted their strength in others. A lower court upheld the districts concluding that race did not predominate in 11 of the 12 districts and, in the 12th, race was a permissible justification.

The other case concerns two congressional district maps that were drawn in North Carolina to ensure that they had a black voting age population of 50%. A lower court ruled that the maps were unconstitutional. Rulings are expected in both cases before the current Supreme Court term ends in June.

The rulings in the Virginia and North Carolina cases may provide guidance on when considering race in redistricting goes too far and the analytical framework courts should use to make that determination. The sordid episodes of 21st Century racial discrimination by Republican-dominated state legislatures must be halted.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Troubling History of America's Attorney General-Designate

By Leland Ware

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated to serve as Attorney General, should not be confirmed. He has a history of making questionable, racially-tinged remarks that reflect an attitude that has no place in an agency responsible for enforcing equal protection of the laws. Sessions’ statements about race resulted in the denial a federal judge position in 1986 after a series of hearings found his racial views too questionable.

Sessions called the NAACP and ALCU "un-American" and "communist-inspired" for "trying to force civil rights down the throats of people." He said a white lawyer was a “disgrace to his race” for representing a black client. He allegedly "used to think that [the KKK] were OK" until he learned that some of the members were "pot smokers." Sessions allegedly warned a black lawyer to "be careful what you say to white folks," calling him "boy." Colleagues claimed Sessions used the n-word. He called the Voting Rights Act a "piece of intrusive legislation."

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1960s when remarks like these were commonplace. Many people and every African American knows what kind of person makes such statements. These comments cannot be brushed off as something that happened a long time ago. After the judgeship fiasco, Sessions went on to become Alabama’s attorney general and later U.S. senator. In those roles, he has fought vigorously against advances for racial equality, women’s rights, due process for immigrants, and voting rights.

At a time of unprecedented racial tension and polarization, Sessions’ appointment would send a strong and unmistakable message to world. He should not be confirmed.

For media stories about Sessions’ racial attitudes see: