Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Voting Rights Act 2013: What Is Daily Life Really Like In The Place That Spawned Shelby County v. Holder?

Shelby County, Alabama
The legal and political worlds have been abuzz over the past 24 hours about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday to overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act in a case styled Shelby County v. Holder.

Implied in the ruling is the assertion that Shelby County, Alabama--and places like it--are more enlightened now than they were when the Voting Rights Act was passed almost 50 years ago. So that raises these questions: What kind of place is Shelby County, Alabama, in 2013? And in terms of justice issues (such as voting), should the public be confident the rule of law will prevail in this burgeoning area south of Birmingham?

As a resident of Shelby County since 1989, I feel qualified to take a crack at those questions. What are my answers? Well, Shelby County is a prosperous, pretty place that features lots of gorgeous trees, mountains, and bodies of water--I can throw a rock from my backyard and almost hit the natural splendor of Oak Mountain State Park. The county, especially in the northern section closest to Birmingham, features numerous fine places to shop and dine, with some of the most attractive neighborhoods you will find anywhere.

But what about those pesky justice issues? In that regard, Shelby County is a cesspool. The county seat is in a little hellhole called Columbiana, and when you take one step into the city limits, it's as if you've entered a time warp and gone back to . . . oh, about 1912.

Experience has taught me that almost all of Shelby County's "justice infrastructure"--the courts, the sheriff's office, the county commission--is hopelessly corrupt. Have things improved here on the racial front since 1965? I have little doubt that the answer is yes. But can citizens of any color--especially those who somehow are seen as different, or outside the suburban, conservative mainstream--expect to have their legal rights protected? The answer is a resounding no. 

I know that with certainty because of first-hand experience, which I have written about extensively on this blog. I also know from reporting on the legal nightmares of others who have been railroaded in the Shelby County "justice system."

Before I provide details about what I have witnessed in Shelby County, let's consider the words of journalist Greg Palast about yesterday's SCOTUS decision. In a piece at Truthout titled "Ku Klux Kourt Kills King's Dream . . . ," Palast writes:

The problem is not that the court majority is racist. They're worse: they're Republicans. 
We've had Republicans, like the great Earl Warren, who put on the robes and take off their party buttons. 
But this crew, beginning with Bush v. Gore, is viciously partisan. They note that "minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels." And the Republican Supremes mean to put an end to that. . . . 
And when they say "minority," they mean "Democrat." 
Because that's the difference between 1965 and today. When the law was first enacted - based on the personal pleas of Martin Luther King - African-Americans were blocked by politicians who did not like the color of their skin. 
But today, it's the color of minority voters' ballots - overwhelmingly Democratic blue - which is the issue.

Palast's words resonate with me, and here is why: As a white male, I fit the primary racial mold in Shelby County. But as a liberal Democrat, married to a liberal Democrat, I am very much a political outsider. And in fighting various court battles for 12-plus years, I've learned that my status as a political outsider means my constitutional rights to due process and equal protection are subject to being trampled.

Sherry Carroll Rollins, a central figure in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, has learned a similar lesson. Her case was decided in Shelby County--even though jurisdiction was established in Greenville, South Carolina, the case was litigated there for three years, and it could not lawfully be moved--and has been the subject of dozens of posts here at Legal Schnauzer.

The victims of former Shelby County teacher Daniel Acker Jr. also suffered because of a dysfunctional justice system. Acker, the son of a long-time Shelby County Commission member, faced allegations of sexual abuse in 1992. But with a number of community groups coming to his support (especially from churches), a grand jury failed to indict him and he kept his job. Some 20 years later, Acker confessed to molesting more than 20 girls during his teaching career, and he now is serving a 17-year prison sentence.

What about my wife and me? Let's consider just one event from our experience. We've had the full ownership rights to our house stolen by a corrupt cabal of lawyer William E. Swatek, Sheriff Chris Curry, and Circuit Judge Hub Harrington. I outlined the key issues in a post titled "Going On The Attack Against The Thugs Who Stole Our House."

What was the fallout? We still live in our house, but a portion of the rights were auctioned off on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse in May 2008, and Bill Swatek currently holds a sheriff's deed on our property--even though more than a half dozen provisions of black-letter law say that can't happen.

I explained all of this in a post that was written just hours after the auction took place. You can check it out here.

For posterity's sake, we captured the auction itself in living color. And it makes for particularly interesting viewing, in light of yesterday's SCOTUS decision that found--in so many words--that all is sweetness and light in Shelby County, Alabama.

My wife and I know that is a load of horse feces. We invite you to click on the video below and see for yourself.

(To make matters particularly surreal, the sheriff's deputy in the video below is named Bubba Caudill. I didn't make that up, and he's not a character from central casting for a Smokey and the Bandit movie. It's his real name, and he's a real deputy in Shelby County, Alabama, the place that spawned yesterday's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.)


Robby Scott Hill said...

Yesterday's ruling paves the way for a new poll tax. One must have the new Driver License with the yellow star & the physical address on it must match your voter registration card. It takes some time & around $100 to get it all right if they don't hassle you too much. Many will not be able to vote next year.

Anonymous said...

Many people who read about the Voting Rights Act ruling probably know nothing about the county that filed the lawsuit. Thanks for enlightening us.

Anonymous said...

Great reporting from the front lines, LS. Thank you.

TLR said...

I've seen that video before, and it's amazing to see it again in the context of yesterday's SCOTUS ruling. As the young people say on the InterWebs . . . "SMH."

Sharon said...

LS, I knew you lived in Shelby County and hoped you would address this. You didn't disappoint.

Anonymous said...

I, too, live in Shelby County, and like the author, I know it has problems with corrupt judges and other public officials. Perhaps regulations on the VRA need to be loosened in some places. But Shelby County, Alabama, is not one of them.

Unknown said...

Voting is rigged. And the country got rigged when the Supreme Court decided it has the law of the land to decide, as the last always deciders in chiefs.

Fast forward and as Sandra Day O'Connor said, the Supreme Court deciding Bush v. Gore gave the Court a bad reputation. Really!

Why enlightened Americans tolerate SCOTUS is a mystery.

Don't know what "SMH" is, but coming from the younger on the "InterWebs" (LOVE THIS), it has to be a great brand for 'em!

Anonymous said...

Sheriff who is leading the country in a rather quiet revolution SAYS GET RID OF THE VOTER 'registration'.

Perhaps that's our answer, NO REGISTRATION AND NO VOTE, then we independently govern as it should be?

legalschnauzer said...


It took me a while to figure out what "SMH" means.

It stands for "shake my head."

Anonymous said...

LS, maybe SCOTUS should have seen the video from "Bubba and Bill's Comedy Hour" before making yesterday's ruling.

Anonymous said...


I love in the video where you offer to show Bubba the law in the Rules of Civil Procedure, and he says, "I don't want to see it."

Hah! Priceless!

Anonymous said...

Is there still a grease spot on the courthouse steps where Bill Swatek was standing?

Anonymous said...

LS,you mentioned a number of positive things about life in Shelby County, but you forgot to mention the all-you-can-eat buffets. Bubba obviously knows how to find them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Shelby County needs to get its own house in order before it starts trying to change federal law.

Anonymous said...

Do Bubba and Bill perform regularly on the courthouse steps? Are tickets available?

Unknown said...

That plan, however, ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act, especially in Old Confederacy states like Texas which were covered by the preclearance requirement of the law. Using the Act, the Justice Department was able to beat back most of the attempts to infringe on suffrage – and minorities provided key votes to reelect President Obama in 2012.

So, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which had been reauthorized overwhelmingly by Congress in 2006) became the next target of the Roberts Court. In a historic ruling on Tuesday, the five right-wing justices – Roberts, Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas – gutted the law by ripping out the preclearance procedure.

The five justices barely bothered with any logical or constitutional argument. Their central point was to publish charts that showed that black voting in areas under special protection of the Voting Rights Act was generally equal to or even higher than the percentages of white voters.

But all that did was show that the law was working, not that those areas would not again resort to trickery once preclearance was removed. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued in a dissent, there was no justification for the Court to overrule the judgment of Congress, reaffirmed only seven years ago.

Frankly speaking I think SCOTUS smells like that acronym sounds and it sounds very foul.

Next, I believe we need to take our drooling and get real about revolting against the sounds that smell too foul against democracy.

LS, they hate you for your genius reporting. Thanks for "Shake My Head" I wonder which head gets shook in Roberts' secret meet ups with the 'boys'.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:25am, thanks for the great laugh heartily out loud!

LS you should file for QUIET TITLE and then see how you get to be treated by the 'establishment'>>

the woman in Calif, "OCCUPY" is in jail bail set at $250K for actually doing the right law in QUIET TITLE, but she is not exactly in her home now>>

maybe you get to be the party favor for the filth?!

oooooo no, no, no.

Reporting as you do is definitely not the kind America thought possible and so BE CAREFUL