September 15, 2015
"Bill would let officials solicit money for criminal defense"
AP (via the Tuscaloosa News) reports: The head of the Alabama Ethics Commission on Monday sharply criticized a bill that would let public officials solicit money from lobbyists and others for criminal defense funds.
Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, called the bill that was approved by the states House of Representatives last week a significant step backward for public ethics. ...
No laws govern the creation of criminal defense funds in Alabama. The bill by Rep. Jack Williams would allow public officials to start the criminal defense funds and solicit contributions without violating a state ban on public officials soliciting a thing of value from lobbyists and others.
The bill would require the treasurer of the fund to file public reports listing donors. -- Bill would let officials solicit money for criminal defense | TuscaloosaNews.com
September 12, 2015
Speaker Hubbard claims the Ethics Law has quit preaching and gone to meddling
John Archibald writes on AL.com: Hubbard, who has publicly praised ethics reforms Republicans used to usher themselves to power -- including those that prevented public officials from lobbying -- asked Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III to dismiss charges against him on a claim that the much ballyhooed ethics law is unconstitutional, and that he, even as a public official, has a constitutional right to lobby for money.
Even from his powerful position in the Legislature. Even as an elected representative of the people of Alabama.
Hubbard lawyer J. Mark White argues under the heading: "Hubbard's right to lobby on behalf of his or his business' clients is a fundamental right constitutionally protected by the First Amendment," that the law Hubbard is charged with breaking presents a host of constitutional issues.
"Lobbying -- the right of the people to inform their representatives in government of their desires with respect to the passage or enforcement of laws -- is 'core' political speech, prototypical of the kind of speech protected by the First Amendment," White argued. -- Documents revealed: No wonder Mike Hubbard wanted them sealed | AL.com
September 7, 2015
"Olivia Reynolds found guilty of 24 counts of voter fraud"
The Dothan Eagle reports: A Houston County jury found Olivia Reynolds guilty Wednesday afternoon for her role in a voter fraud case.
Assistant District Attorney Banks Smith said the jury found 66-year-old Olivia Reynolds guilty of 24 felony counts of absentee ballot fraud. Smith said the jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with the guilty verdicts.
Houston County Sheriff?s investigators arrested Reynolds in May 2014. She was one of three women charged who worked on the 2013 campaign for District 2 City Commissioner Amos Newsome.
In the August election, Newsome beat challenger Lamesa Danzey by 14 votes. Newsome received 119 of the 124 absentee votes that were cast. Danzey received more votes than Newsome at the polls. ...
Smith said some of the voters testified at trial how they never wanted to vote for Newsome yet their ballot was cast for Newsome anyway. -- Olivia Reynolds found guilty of 24 counts of voter fraud - Dothan Eagle: Crime Court
"Alabama voter convicted for openly carrying gun to poll"
AL.com reports: A Pelham man was convicted Friday on misdemeanor charges he illegally wore, in open view, a holstered pistol at a polling site during last year's Nov. 4 general election.
Robert Kennedy Jr., 59, was convicted in a bench trial before Shelby County District Court Judge Daniel A. Crowson Jr. on charges of voting obstruction and possession of firearms at certain places.
Crowson sentenced Kennedy to 30 days in jail, but suspended it 24 months and placed him on unsupervised probation for each conviction, with both sentences running concurrent. -- Alabama voter convicted for openly carrying gun to poll | AL.com
September 5, 2015
"A sure scandal in Gov. Robert Bentley's Administration"
John Archibald writes on AL.com: Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a chief adviser to the governor of the state of Alabama, is paid by unknown entities with money funneled through an opaque non-profit. And that shadowy operation ? it doesn't have to reveal its donors -- is set up by people connected to the state's most powerful and politically aggressive institutions. ...
Mason is paid through the lovely sounding Alabama Council for Excellent Government, formed of folks tied to both the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and Alabama Power. And she is not the only one on the lease-an-advisor program. Bentley's chief of staff, Seth Hammett, continues to be paid by Power South Energy Cooperative in Andalusia.
And yes, that has somehow been approved by that enabling outfit that calls itself the Alabama Ethics Commission Ė a group that ought to be renamed the Politicians' Apologist League, or PAL.
So in the end we have the two top advisers to the governor of the state of Alabama bought and paid for Ė with the blessing of the state's adjudicators of what is good and proper Ė by the most powerful people and aggressive lobbyists in the state. -- A sure scandal in Gov. Robert Bentley's Administration | AL.com
August 28, 2015
"Ten Alabama counties have more voters than eligible people"
AL.com reports: An organization called the Public Interest Legal Foundation has notified 10 counties in Alabama that they have more registered voters than voting age population.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he checked the numbers in the counties listed by the foundation and confirmed that all 10 had more registered voters than people 18 and older.
The counties are Lowndes, Perry, Greene, Macon, Wilcox, Marengo, Hale, Washington, Conecuh and Choctaw.
Merrill said all 10 counties have lost population since 2010 and believes some people who have left the counties remain on the voting rolls. -- Ten Alabama counties have more voters than eligible people | AL.com
August 26, 2015
"Federal court asks plaintiffs to draw Alabama legislative district plan"
AL.com reports: A three-judge federal court today asked plaintiffs who claim Alabama's legislative districts are racially gerrymandered if they could draw a new plan that would strike the delicate balance of protecting majority black districts while not using race as the main factor. ...
The case concerns Alabama's 140 legislative districts, redrawn by a Republican-led Legislature in 2012, as is done after after 10-year census. The plan was used in last year's elections.
The plan did not reduce the number of majority black districts from the previous maps -- 27 in the House and eight in the Senate.
But the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, the Alabama Democratic Conference and others sued to challenge the plan, saying it packed too many blacks into those majority black districts, reducing their influence in other districts. They also claimed the plan unnecessarily split counties.
Today, in response to Pryor's questions, lawyers for the plaintiffs said they could come up with a district plan that protects minority districts without making race predominant over other redistricting principles, such as keeping counties and precincts intact and keeping incumbents in separate districts. -- Federal court asks plaintiffs to draw Alabama legislative district plan | AL.com
Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the plaintiffs, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.
August 24, 2015
Alabama redistricting case set for argument on Tuesday
The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Three federal judges will hear arguments Tuesday over this question: Did the Alabama Legislature try to reduce the voice of minority voters with a new district map?
Attorneys for black legislators say yes and want to have the districts thrown out completely.
"We're hoping that the court will declare all of the majority black districts to be unconstitutional," said James Blacksher, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in a phone interview Friday. "And then give the legislature a deadline for producing new plans. We hope in time for elections to be held under new plans in 2016."
The state says the plaintiffs have no proof that race was the predominant factor in the maps' creation. -- Alabama redistricting battle back in federal court
Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
August 19, 2015
State Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker begins raising money for 2016 election
The Anniston Star reports: The next general election is more than a year away, but one of the men on the state's highest court has raised $47,000 for his re-election campaign.
Justice Tom Parker, one of three justices up for re-election in 2016, picked up donations from seven law firms and one individual lawyer in July and August. Parker, a Republican who does not yet have any opponents for the Supreme Court seat, is the first statewide candidate to report any fundraising for next year?s elections. ...
Parker's top donors include Birmingham lawyer David Marsh and the law firm Hare, Wynn Newell and Newton; each gave $10,000 to Parker's campaign. All of Parker's donors to date are lawyers or law firms, and most state on their websites that they've argued cases before the Alabama Supreme Court. Attempts to reach spokespeople willing to comment on the donations at all of the firms were unsuccessful Tuesday. -- State Supreme Court justice begins raising money for 2016 election - The Anniston Star: News
August 16, 2015
R.I.P.: Julian Bond
The New York Times reports: Julian Bond, a former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights for minorities, died on Saturday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.
Mr. Bond died in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after a brief illness, the center said in a statement Sunday morning.
He was one of the original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
He moved from the militancy of the student group to the top leadership of the establishmentarian N.A.A.C.P. Along the way, he was a writer, poet, television commentator, lecturer, college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy.
He also served for 20 years in the Georgia Legislature, mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser. -- Julian Bond, Former N.A.A.C.P. Chairman and Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 75 - The New York Times
August 14, 2015
"People flock from across U.S. to honor Jonathan Daniels"
The Montgomery Advertiser reported: Religious leaders and civil rights activists from across America begin arriving in Alabama today to remember an Episcopal seminary student who sacrificed his life to save a teenage girl 50 years ago.
Jonathan Daniels was one of several activists who took part in voting rights protests in 1965 during a violent year that claimed several lives.
Daniels, 26, died instantly when struck in the chest at point blank range by a shotgun blast as he stood outside a small convenience store on Aug. 20, 1965, shielding Ruby Sales who was not struck. ...
Events are scheduled throughout the weekend with the center of attention again in Hayneville where Daniels, a white New Hampshire native, was fatally shot on a hot August day not far from the Lowndes County Courthouse. Sales, who turned 17 a few weeks before the shooting, is black. -- People flock from across U.S. to honor Jonathan Daniels
August 10, 2015
Thomas Gilmore, former sheriff of Greene County and long-time pastor, has died
AL.com reports: Thomas Gilmore, Greene County's first black sheriff and the second black sheriff elected in Alabama, died Sunday in Birmingham, according to WVTM-TV.
The 74-year-old, a longtime pastor at First Baptist Church of Ensley, was born in Forkland and briefly lived in Los Angeles before returning home to Greene County in 1963. ...
Inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gilmore tried to be non-violent, even while working in law enforcement, and was known as "The Sheriff Without A Gun."
"When I arrest someone, I believe my approach is more important than my authority," he told a reporter in 1978. "I never insult a suspect. I never threaten him....Usually, I have no trouble."
After retiring as sheriff, Gilmore went on to serve as a pastor in Ensley for more than three decades. -- Greene County's first black sheriff has died: Thomas Gilmore was the 'sheriff without a gun' | AL.com
Note: I had the honor of working with Tom Gilmore while he was sheriff. May he rest in peace.
August 6, 2015
"Panic Over Campaign Cash for Legal Defense"
The Alabama Political Reporter says: Word around the State House is Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) is in a panic to find sponsors for a bill that would exempt campaign contributions used for legal fees as being considered a "thing of value."
Even before Hubbard was indicted on 23 felony counts of pubic corruption, he was using campaign contributions to pay attorneys. ...
However, during the 2015 Regular Session, the Republican Supermajority codified that opinion into law and expanded it allowing public office holders to use campaign contributions for, "Legal fees and costs associated with any civil action, criminal prosecution, or investigation related to conduct reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held."
What has not been addressed is whether this new law conflicts with the ethics laws passed in 2010.
State ethics law -- Section 36-25-6 passed by the Republican Supermajority in 2010 states: "Contributions to an office holder, a candidate, or to a public official's inaugural or transitional fund shall not be converted to personal use." -- Panic Over Campaign Cash for Legal Defense
July 28, 2015
"Civil rights martyr killed in Alabama gets stone carving at National Cathedral"
AL.com reports: Civil rights activist Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminary student who died in Alabama in 1965 when he stepped in front of a shotgun blast aimed at black teenager Ruby Sales, has been remembered with a stone monument in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Daniels is the third person memorialized with a bust in the Human Rights Porch of the National Cathedral. The other two are Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. ...
The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama will celebrate Daniels the weekend of Aug. 14-16. The weekend activities will begin Friday evening in Montgomery with a program at St. John's Episcopal Church and will wrap up Sunday morning with a service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Selma.
Morris Dees, Jr., co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, will be guest speaker at St. John's at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14.
The annual pilgrimage honoring Daniels begins at the Courthouse Square in Hayneville on Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. The procession will go to the old county jail where Daniels and others were detained, then will move to the former site of Varners Cash Grocery Store where the shooting took place. The current owner of the store, which had become an insurance agency office, demolished the building. During this year's pilgrimage a historical marker will be dedicated at the site. -- Civil rights martyr killed in Alabama gets stone carving at National Cathedral | AL.com
"Aderholt opponent Phil Norris doesn't live in district, but he doesn't have to"
AL.com reports: Phil Norris wants to represent the people of Alabama's 4th Congressional District, but he won't be able to count on his own vote in a Republican primary election, should he qualify for the ballot.
Norris, a 54-year-old military veteran and a nuclear health physics technologist, lives in Dothan, some 200 miles away from the southernmost point of the 4th CD, which stretches from the Mississippi border to the Georgia state line and includes part of Tuscaloosa and all of Gadsden. He has no plans to move into the district by the March primary, but he doesn't need too.
Residency requirements for Congress only say that a candidate has to "inhabit" the state of the district they want to represent. There's a history of candidates -- and even House members -- who don't live in their districts, but they usually live adjacent to the district's boundaries.
Norris, who filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on May 26 to run as a Republican, told AL.com that he has "emotional family ties to the district." He grew up in Hamilton, attended local schools and still has family in the area. -- Aderholt opponent Phil Norris doesn't live in district, but he doesn't have to | AL.com
July 22, 2015
Hubbard to attack constitutionality of Ethics Act
AL.com reports: Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard plans to claim that parts of the state ethics law are unconstitutional, according to a request filed in court by his lawyers on Monday. ...
"Hubbard anticipates filing a motion challenging the constitutionality of various portions of the Alabama Ethics Act," and other issues, the motion says. -- Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard to claim parts of ethics law unconstitutional | AL.com
July 21, 2015
"Abortion rights group files ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore"
AL.com reports: Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates has filed an ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
The group claims Moore showed public support for domestic terrorism by speaking at an anti-abortion rally held by Operation Save America in Montgomery on July 11. ...
"Chief Justice Moore has a history of working contrary to federal law in promoting his own personal beliefs and agenda through the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate as evidenced by his refusal to follow federal orders to remove the Ten Commandment monument and most recently his stance on disallowing probate judges to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same sex in violation of federal order," according to the complaint. -- Abortion rights group files ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore | AL.com
For a Wikipedia article on the "Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate," go here.
July 20, 2015
"Alabama lawmakers again try to tighten campaign finance law"
AL.com reports: The Alabama Legislature has again tried to tighten up the state's campaign finance law, following up on earlier efforts that haven't worked as planned.
The Fair Campaign Practices Act, on the books since 1988, has been criticized for lacking teeth and a designated authority for enforcement.
With a bill that passed during the regular session, lawmakers gave the state Ethics Commission authority to investigate violations of the act, among other changes.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the bill, based mostly on recommendations from a study committee, "will bring a lot more transparency and accountability to our electoral system." -- Alabama lawmakers again try to tighten campaign finance law | AL.com
July 8, 2015
Study ranks Alabama least democratic (small "d") in the country
AL.com reports: Alabama is the least democratic state in the Union ? ranking 51st out of a ranking of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The healthiest democracy apparently belongs to Maine.
At least that's the result of the new Health of State Democracies study by the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF). ...
Accessibility of ballot ? Grade: F (48th place out of 51) ...
Representation in state government Ė Grade: D- (43rd place out of 51) ...
Influence in the political system Ė Grade: F (46th place out of 51) -- Is Alabama the least democratic state in the Union? | AL.com
"Important to keep fighting for voting rights law"
An editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser: Sometimes you have to swing for the fences.
That's what Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, are doing as lead sponsors of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015.
The new bill would restore and strengthen the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder.
The original voting rights legislation required states with histories of racial discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing voting laws. That protection helped guarantee all eligible voters the right to make their voices heard at the polls.
But the high court stripped that provision of the law, erroneously believing discriminatory election practices were a thing of the past. -- Important to keep fighting for voting rights law
June 15, 2015
Tuscaloosa News editorializes against universal, automatic registration
An editorial from the Tuscaloosa News: Voter fraud is not imaginary. But labeling reasonable efforts to ensure that fraud doesn't taint elections as voter suppression is pure fantasy. Loading the voter rolls with the names of people who don't care enough about their civic duty to provide county officials with a name and correct address is an open invitation to fraud.
The incessant drumbeat, mostly from Democrats, that voter fraud doesn't exist is simply untrue. They know it and we, here in this part of Alabama, certainly know it. We've seen fraudulent absentee ballots turned in by the bundle. ...
What automatic registration would do is create exceptionally fertile ground for voter fraud. People donít neglect to vote because itís difficult to register or get to the polls. Itís not. They fail to register and vote because they donít care about the process of governing this country to make the effort. Or perhaps they just donít believe their vote makes a difference. ...
People who wonít make the minimal effort to register arenít likely to vote. Why let someone vote for them? -- EDITORIAL: Registering all is invitation to voter fraud | TuscaloosaNews.com
June 10, 2015
The TimesDaily reports: Legislation approved in the Alabama Statehouse gives more clarity and enforcement capabilities to the state?s campaign finance reporting laws, the bill?s sponsor and drafter said.
Senate Bill 241, approved last week and sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, includes recommendations from a panel of lawmakers and other officials who met in 2013 and 2014. ...
He said the legislation does several things:
Ethics Commission Executive Director Thomas Albritton on Tuesday said the five-member commission will issue formal opinions on campaign finance in the same manner it issues ethics opinions. -- Legislation puts more enforcement in campaign finance reporting laws - TimesDaily: State Capital
June 9, 2015
"Fraudulent claims of voter fraud"
The Anniston Star opines: In the latter half of the past century, Alabama, like most states, struck a workable balance between encouraging participation at the polls and fighting against voter fraud.
Voters were asked to provide a form of identity, which might include a utility bill, a student ID or a simple voter registration card. It was a measure of accountability against in-person voter fraud yet not too much for something that is extremely rare and grossly ineffective in swaying most elections.
About five years ago, things started to change in states dominated by Republicans. Despite no more than a few convictions for in-person voter fraud nationwide, these states erected fresh barriers to the ballot box. Alabama joined many others in requiring a picture ID before a registered voter could cast a ballot.
Others, including this editorial board, wondered why stricter rules were necessary when evidence of fraud that would require tightened rules was absent. -- Editorial: Fraudulent claims of voter fraud - The Anniston Star: Opinion
June 2, 2015
"SEC Primary" bill awaits Governor's signature
Yellowhammer News reports: After Alabama passed its bill moving primaries up to March 1st last week, joining Arkansas and four other Southern states, the ďSEC Primary,Ē appears to be ready to make waves during the 2016 presidential race.
The Yellowhammer State will join Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia to hold its presidential primary election on March 1st as soon as Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) signs the bill into law. Electoral heavy hitter Florida will also have its primary in March, waiting until two weeks after its neighbors for March 15th. ...
Sen. Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the bill in the Alabama Senate, called his bill an "economic stimulus," because it would encourage presidential candidates, and their massive cadres of campaign staff, to spend more time in the state. -- Ala. leads 'SEC Primary' to make the South a major player in the presidential race - Yellowhammer News
Alabama bill to require more voter-ID for absentee ballots is dead
AL.com reports: A bill that would require voters to submit a copy of their photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot in the state of Alabama is dead, Rep. Reed Ingram said.
Ingram, R-Montgomery, who served as the bill's sponsor, said there is too much confusion over the legislation that Republicans say is an extra measure to prevent voter fraud.
Ingram likely had enough Republican votes to get the bill passed, but not without a fight from Democrats on the House floor.
The bill didn't have a third reading in the House of Representatives per Ingram's request.
Currently, Alabama is one of only three states that require a photo ID to submit an absentee ballot. The new rule would have required absentee voters to submit a copy of their photo ID on the frontend as well. -- Absentee voter ID bill dead in Alabama Legislature, lawmakers say | AL.com