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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Voting Rights Act Withstands a Challenge in the Deep South

President Lyndon Johnson signs
The Voting Rights Act of 1965

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 But they have been replaced by the days of men filing dubious lawsuits, funded by mysterious organizations.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 County? The 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.


Anonymous said...

how many time i do not do what i want to do but do what i dont want to do

Redeye said...

Bogged about this yesterday. Alabama AG Luther Strange bypassed the DOJ and went straight to the courts. I wonder why?


Mack Lyons said...

The SEC figures Larry Langford no longer has a pot to piss in, therefore, no more disgorgement case.


Robby Scott Hill said...

@Redeye - Most of the judges on the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit were appointed by Bush 41 & 43. So, guess how that one is going to turn out.

Max Shelby said...

PFR Director Edward Blum said this is a phone interview to the Shelby County Reporter this afternoon:

“The County Commission and the officials of Shelby County were very judicious and far-sighted in recognizing that not only was Shelby County being punished for sins of their grandfathers or in some cases great-grandfathers, but the entire state of Alabama was being punished, as well as most of the Deep South,” Blum said.

“Courageous? Perhaps,” he continued. “But I think they were trendsetters in recognizing that this law was really no longer necessary for Shelby County and all of Alabama.”


Blum emphasized that he doesn’t provide legal counsel to Shelby County and can’t speak for the county. He made his comments, he said, as the person responsible for providing funding for the lawsuit.

The 'crackerjack' reporter, most of them still have a pubescent appearance, inquired about PFR's involvement:

How did Shelby County get involved with the Project for Fair Representation?

As he followed all preclearance objections, Blum said he read the attorney general’s Aug. 25, 2008 objection to Calera’s redistricting plan and 177 annexations. That plan, according to Bates’ opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, would have eliminated the city’s only majority-black district.

“I happened to read the one concerning the city of Calera,” Blum said. “I started exchanging phone calls and emails with (Shelby County Attorney) Butch Ellis throughout the process of the Texas litigation. That’s how we established our relationship.”

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sharing, Max. Shelby County, Alabama, must be one of the most corrupt jurisdictions in the country. Most any honest lawyer in Jeffco will tell you that someone who is not "local counsel" will be home cooked in Shelby County. And this has been going on for decades, much of it right under Butch Ellis' nose. He seems to be the one constant in Shelby County, always hanging around something that smells bad for one reason or another. Just how corrupt is this guy, and how much corruption has he witnessed and kept quiet about? Lawyers have a duty to report wrongdoing by other lawyers (including judges). How many times has Butch Ellis looked the other way? I've never met the man, but he must be a colossal creep.

Anonymous said...

More information on POFR and its AEI and ALEC connections:

Not surprisingly, the Project on Fair Representation (POFR), is housed in the same offices as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), located at 1150 Seventeenth St. NW, Washington, DC.

Right Wing Watch describes AEI: The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks. AEI has been described as one of the country's main bastions of neoconservatism and frequently serves as an 'adult day care center' for out-of-work neoconservatives between GOP administrations.

The AEI website lists Edward Blum, director of the POFR, as a visiting fellow.

Here is Edward Blum's AEI bio:
Edward Blum is also the director of the Project on Fair Representation. He studies civil rights policy issues such as voting rights, affirmative action, and multiculturalism. Prior to joining AEI, he facilitated the legal challenge to dozens of racially gerrymandered voting districts and race-based school admissions and public contracting programs throughout the nation. He is the author of The Unintended Consequences of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (AEI Press, 2007). The book describes how in recent years the Voting Rights Act has caused minority voters to become pawns in partisan redistricting battles, diminished competitive elections, driven the creation of bug-splat-like voting districts, and contributed to the ideological polarization of voting districts."

AEI scholars are considered to be some of the leading architects of the George W. Bush administration's public policy. More than twenty AEI scholars and fellows served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government's many panels and commissions. Among the prominent former government officials now affiliated with AEI are former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, now an AEI senior fellow; former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Lynne Cheney, a longtime AEI senior fellow; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now an AEI senior fellow; and former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, now an AEI visiting scholar. Other prominent individuals affiliated with AEI - past and present - include Milton Friedman, David Frum, Frederick W. Kagan, Leon Kass, Charles Murray, Michael Novak, Norman J. Ornstein, Richard Perle, Radek Sikorski, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Peter J. Wallison.

AEI has strong ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Today, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) made available over 800 “model” bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporate and legislative members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC was created by right-wing political apparatchik Paul Weyrich in 1973. ALEC has become the premier institution for crafting and promoting model legislation and resolutions that largely benefit its corporate members. Until today, it has been difficult to trace the controversial and oddly uniform bills popping up in legislatures across the country directly to ALEC.

jeffrey spruill said...

@Mr. Schnauzer:

Lawyers have a duty to report wrongdoing by other lawyers (including judges).

Now that's a joke!!!!

legalschnauzer said...


The duty is not a joke. It's very real, and is a major part of all "professional responsibility" codes.

The joke, of course, is that lawyers would actually take their duties seriously.