Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: May 2011 Archives

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May 30, 2011

Alabama: the (primary) times are a'changin'

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Changing the date of Alabama's presidential pri­mary will save the state money, but could also cost the state national exposure.

In the spring of 2007, presidential candidates for both parties were storming into Alabama, hiring staff and lobbyists and securing lawmakers' en­dorsements. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giu­liani and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spoke before the state Legislature. McCain visited Alabama at least four times between January and June of that year.

Four years later -- with a much less settled pres­idential field -- things are very different. ...

The comparative lack of activi­ty reflects both the still-fluid nature of the GOP presidential race, where campaigns are getting under way later than in the 2008 season, and Alabama's relatively late primary start, which will be pushed back a month under a bill approved by the state Legislature. -- Read the whole story --> Delaying Alabama presidential primary may save state money; affect candidates' plans | The Montgomery Advertiser |

May 28, 2011

Charges reinstated against former Ala. Sec of State

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A state appeals court reinstated five felony charges Friday against former Secretary of State Nancy Worley for a second time.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals issued a 4-0 ruling that said prosecutors presented enough evidence for the charges to stand against the former Democratic officeholder.

The decision means Worley's four-year legal battle is far from over. Her attorney, James Anderson, said he would ask the court to reconsider, and if it doesn't, she would appeal to the state Supreme Court for a second time.

The charges stem from a campaign letter, contribution envelope and bumper sticker that Worley sent to five employees in the secretary of state's office during her unsuccessful race for re-election in 2006. -- Read the whole story --> Court reinstates charges against Worley | The Montgomery Advertiser |

May 22, 2011

Behind the scenes in the switch in Alabama redistricting plans

The Times Daily reports: On the surface, the big loser was the Shoals and the big winner was Morgan County when the Legislative Reapportionment Committee recast its vote on redrawing congressional district lines last week.

But the story behind the committee's decision Thursday to ditch a plan it tentatively approved Wednesday for a new version by Rep. Micky Hammon the next day may be more complicated.

Jess Brown, Athens State University political scientist, and Bill Stewart, University of Alabama political science professor emeritus, said the decision to boot Rep. Gerald Allen's originally approved plan was to solidify Republican districts.

Brown said Hammon's design also positions Republican rising star, Sen. Arthur Orr, of Decatur, in the middle of U.S. House District 5 race should he decide to seek the office. The plan also moves Decatur and Morgan County into the metro Huntsville area for future planning purposes. -- Read the whole story -->
Redistricting plan ditched behind scenes | | The Times Daily | Florence, AL

May 20, 2011

Redistricting committee changes Alabama congressional plan

The Huntsville Times reports: The Alabama Legislature's reapportionment committee Thursday approved a new plan for congressional districts that would divide the Shoals area and move Morgan County back into the 5th District.

After getting public input, the committee dumped a plan it had approved on Wednesday and voted for a new one that would split Lauderdale and Colbert counties between Huntsville Republican Rep. Mo Brooks' 5th District and Haleyville Republican Robert Aderholt's 4th District. -- Read the whole story --> New plan for congressional districts would move Morgan back to 5th, divide Shoals |

Below is the map published by the Times:

May 18, 2011

Alabama congressional redistricting proposal from committee

The Birmingham News reports: The Alabama Legislature's reapportionment committee on Wednesday approved a draft plan to redraw Alabama's seven congressional districts that would remove much of Tuscaloosa County and all of Bibb County from the current 6th District.

Under the plan, the redrawn 6th District, currently represented by Rep. Spencer Bachus, would keep Shelby and Chilton counties and much of Jefferson County, get all of St. Clair and Coosa counties -- it now has parts of those counties -- and also pick up slices of south Blount County and southwest Talladega County.

The plan also would add Lowndes County and northwest Montgomery County to the 7th District while removing southern Tuscaloosa County. That would keep much of west-central Alabama and a finger of southwest and central Jefferson County in the 7th District, including much of Birmingham. All of Tuscaloosa County would be moved to the 4th District, which would retain Walker, Cullman and several other counties.

The redrawn 7th District, currently represented by Rep. Terri Sewell, would remain the state's only majority-black congressional district: 64.4 percent of its residents would be black, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. -- Read the whole story --> State panel adopts draft plans to redraw Alabama's 7 congressional, 8 Board of Education districts |

There is no map with the story -- at least in the version on as I write this post. If you want to see what the new map will look like, go to the National Atlas, print yourself a map of the current Alabama districts, get out your colored pencils, and mark up the map.

(Now, where are my colored pencils?)

May 17, 2011

Alabama letter-writer complains about National Popular Vote

S. Matthew Jones writes a letter to the Birmingham News: The National Popular Vote bill introduced by Dial upends our current system, placing national interests over Alabama interests by forcing Alabama's electoral votes to be cast for the presidential candidate receiving the collective national majority -- ignoring the majority vote of Alabama. Thus, for example, even if the majority of Alabamians overwhelmingly vote one way, if the national majority votes the other way, Alabama's electoral votes must, by law, go the other way. -- Read the whole letter --> YOUR VIEW: 'Popular vote' bill would abrogate Alabama's rights |

May 15, 2011

Alabama opens a Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Fifty years ago, the former Grey­hound bus station on Court Street was a witness to a pivotal point in Mont­gomery's civil rights history.

A group of young people -- the Freedom Riders, who were testing fed­eral laws that were supposed to end segregation at bus and train terminals -- was attacked and beaten by angry whites when their bus arrived at this station in May 1961.

But the buses that come through the city now are far removed from this site, and don't come downtown any­more. The buses that do roll through periodically are tour buses, usually full of tourists who are interested in the stories of Montgomery's civil rights past.

Until now, there wasn't much to look at here at the station. A perma­nent historical marker greets visitors on the sidewalk out front, and informa­tive panels that tell the story of the rides were attached to the exterior in 2008.

But beyond that, there wasn't much else to see. The station wasn't open to the public.

That will change this week, the 50th anniversary of the day the first Freedom Rides bus stopped here. The Freedom Rides Museum will have its public opening, and several dignitaries and former Freedom Riders will be here to help celebrate. -- Read the whole story --> Freedom Rides: Historic bus station's transformation into a museum now complete | The Montgomery Advertiser |

May 13, 2011

Alabama: Joe Reed suggests a second black Congressional District

The Birmingham News reports: A top-ranking Democrat on Thursday asked leaders of the Legislature's reapportionment committee to look into the possibility of creating a second majority-black congressional district in Alabama.

"We need to take a look at that," Joe Reed, the state Democratic Party's vice chairman for minority affairs, said at a public hearing on how legislators should redraw Alabama's congressional and state Board of Education districts in time for next year's elections. ...

Reed said he thinks a second majority-black district, linking Mobile and Montgomery, maybe could be drawn. "I'm not 100 percent certain that it's workable, but I think someone's got to look at it," Reed said in an interview after the hearing. ...

But Dial and McClendon said they doubted two majority-black congressional districts could be drawn in Alabama, given the number of black residents and their dispersal across the state. The 2010 census said 26.2 percent of Alabama residents are black, almost exactly the same percentage shown by the 2000 census. -- Read the whole story --> Reed says second majority-black district might be possible for Alabama |

May 11, 2011

Alabama: 2 counts against Siegelman and Schrushy

The Birmingham News reports: A lawyer for former Gov. Don Siegelman said the governor will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed following the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision today upholding most of his conviction in a government corruption case.

The 11th Circuit after reviewing the case for a second time upheld five of the counts against Siegelman and four against former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. ...

Among other problems, defense lawyers argued prosecutors could not show the two men had a conversation or other direct communication in which they agreed to swap the appointment for the money.

Without requiring such direct proof, prosecutors are free to infer a bribery situation anytime a donor receives some favorable action, Heldman said,

"I continue to think they are wrong about where the line is drawn between campaign contributions and crimes. I believe they've set a standard that, if applied to everyone, would mean our jails would be overflowing," Heldman said.

The judges said they found no reversible error on that point. -- Read the whole story --> Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman may ask Supreme Court to review case, attorney says |

Alabama: redistricting committee hears complaints

The Birmingham News reports: Not many of the 100 or so people who showed up at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel Tuesday for a public hearing on how legislators should redraw Alabama's congressional and state Board of Education districts made specific requests on map drawing.

Instead, several told an attorney for the Legislature's reapportionment committee, Dorman Walker, and the two co-chairmen of the 22-member committee that the hearing should have been postponed because of the April 27 tornadoes. ...

Others at the hearing questioned whether the reapportionment committee, with its 16 Republican and six Democratic members, could fairly redraw congressional and school board districts in time for next year's elections to reflect population changes shown by the 2010 census. -- Read the whole story --> Some say redistricting hearing poorly timed because of tornado recovery |

May 10, 2011

Alabama: 1st day of congressional redistricting hearings

The Huntsville Times reports: Colbert and Lauderdale counties want to stay together, and while Morgan County's business leaders want a reunion, its smaller-town mayors like where they are, a legislative committee on redistricting learned Monday night.

In a meeting at the Von Braun Center that only featured public comments about redrawing Alabama's congressional map this year, most of the discussion focused on how it will affect Morgan County and the Muscle Shoals area.

Morgan County is divided by two congressional districts, with most of Decatur and all of Hartselle in the 5th District of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and the remainder of its population is in U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt's 4th District.

It was the first of six public hearings to be held by the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment in the next nine days. The committee wants to present a redrawn congressional map to the Alabama Legislature for consideration on May 24. The new map is supposed to be in effect for the 2012 congressional elections. -- Read the whole story --> Committee redrawing congressional map hears Shoals wants to stay together, Morgan County chamber wants 5th District |

May 8, 2011

Oral argument in Drake v. Obama

C-SPAN -- The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Drake v. Obama, a case questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States and is eligible to serve as president. Wiley Drake, a former vice presidential candidate in 2008 and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, are two of the lead plaintiffs challenging the validity of President Obama's birth certificate. A lower court dismissed this case ruling that the Court is not the proper place to challenge a president's election. -- View the 51-minute video --> [Drake v. Obama] Oral Arguments - C-SPAN Video Library

If you are a "birther," you would probably have to wonder if Dr. Orly Taitz did your cause any good by her argument. She began her argument by talking about the President's recent release of his long-form birth certificate, which is not an issue in her appeal, but she claims it is just a "computer image" and that the President falsified that certificate. She went on to how she was pressured by the district judge to serve the U.S. Attorney in open court, the lack of impartiality of the judge because the President's lawyer used to clerk for the judge, and so on. Were these the issues on appeal?

On the other hand, Gary Kreep actually stuck to the issues that the Court seemed to want to decide -- standing and political question.

May 7, 2011

Alabama Legislature to hold redistricting hearings next week

The Birmingham News reports: The Legislature's re­apportionment committee has adjusted its schedule of public hearings in which peo­ple will be able to say how they think new district lines should be drawn for Ala­bama's seven congressional districts and eight state Board of Education districts. -- Read the whole story --> Legislature adjusts schedule of public hearings on redistricting |

May 6, 2011

Alabama: district judge hopes for speedy Siegelman decision

AP reports that Judge Myron Thompson wants a decision in the Siegelman case, so he can rule on the gambling-bribery trial issues. -- Read the whole story --> Judge: Issue in gambling probe same as Siegelman |

Alabama: is it a bribe or a campaign contribution

The Birmingham News reports: Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the bingo vote buying case today tangled over where the line is between a legal campaign contribution and an illegal bribe.

Defense lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson to dismiss federal funds bribery charges against the defendants in the case. Prosecutors have alleged that casino owners used campaign contributions and other things of value to bribe legislators for yes votes on a gambling bill before them last year.

Sam Heldman, a lawyer representing Victoryland owner Milton McGregor, told Thompson that, for a campaign contribution to be a bribe, prosecutors should have to prove there was an explicit agreement between the donor and the politician that the politician agreed to take some official action in exchange for the money.

Otherwise, Heldman said, courts run the risk of criminalizing the normal political activity of accepting campaign donations.
-- Read the whole story --> Defense lawyers in bingo case ask judge to dismiss charges |

May 1, 2011

"Alabama primary dates would shift under bill"

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama's primary elections would alternate every two years between being held in March and being held in June, under a bill that could win final legislative approval this week.

Under House Bill 425, Alabama's presidential preference primaries and its party primary elections for state courts, Congress and other positions would be held every four years on the second Tuesday in March. The first of those elections would be next year.

Alabama's primary elections for governor, the Legislature and other offices would remain on the first Tuesday in June in years with no presidential elections.

Alabama law now calls for two sets of primary elections in presidential election years, with the presidential primaries in February and primaries for all other offices in June. Read the whole story --> Alabama primary dates would shift under bill |

Alabama: Another unintended (?) consequence of HB 425

Richard Winger of Ballot Access News emailed me: I am glad you are writing about HB 425. Next time you do a story, you should add that this bill, if not amended, threatens to overturn Alabama's petition procedure for how minor parties get on the ballot. HB 425 does not change the petition deadline directly, but it does change it indirectly. This is because existing law says the petition to put a minor party on the ballot is due on primary day. The bill does not change that, so if the bill passes, the petition deadline for minor parties will be in March.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Anderson v Celebrezze, 460 US 780 (1983) that state petition deadlines for minor parties and independent candidates, at least in a presidential race, cannot be as early as March. The court struck down Ohio's law, which required 5,000 signatures by March 20, 1980. The person who won that lawsuit was John B. Anderson, who had run as an independent presidential candidate in 1980 and who did get on the ballot in all 50 states. He had to sue 5 states that had petition deadlines earlier than May, and he won all those cases during 1980. In 1983 the US Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision that had said Ohio's deadline was too early.

That is why the 11th circuit, and the US District Court, both ruled that Alabama's old April petition deadline for new parties was unconstitutional. See New Alliance Party of Alabama v Hand, 933 F 2d 1568 (1991). It said an April petition deadline, in conjunction with a 1% (of the last gubernatorial vote) was unconstitutional, and that didn't even involve a presidential election. Now Alabama has a June petition combined with a 3% petition.