Shelby County, in suburban Birmingham, Ala., has been trying to disenfranchise black people for years, but the latest ploy has been shot down by a federal district court.

Shelby County officials, ever zealous in trying to protect the Constitution and the rights it grants to American citizens, went to court because they feared that the U.S. Congress was trampling the Constitution underfoot by extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years (this was done in 2006).This means it won’t be until 2031 that Shelby County can start discriminating against black voters, and Congress could extend the act again.

The Voting Rights Act applies to areas where a history of discrimination has been manifested– almost every county in every Southern state, but also, according to the New York Times, “Alaska, Arizona and isolated towns and counties around the country.”

These areas cannot change any of their voting practices without getting permission from a panel of federal judges or the U Department of Justice. Shelby County, and no doubt other areas, feel discriminated against and, as we all know, discrimination is unconstitutional.

The good officials of Shelby County are not about to have their rights stepped on.

They maintain that Jim Crow is history, and they went to court to argue that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress arbitrarily impose” on them and others “disfavored treatment,” i.e., having to get permission before mucking around with their voting procedures. Congress, they maintained had no evidence “of intentional discrimination” and, even if it did it, seems, it is still a disregard of states rights (I thought that was resolved in 1865).

The federal court, however, found otherwise. At least 14 cases of intentional voter discrimination between 1982 and 2006 had been determined by the courts. The federal judge also noted that the county has openly racist lawmakers and poll workers [preposterous – what in Alabama?] and that a town in the county had in 2008 tried to eliminate the only district with a black majority.

Poor Shelby County. It looks like it will have to wait until 2031 before it can overcome “disfavorment.” As the federal judge, a Bush Jr. appointee, John D. Bates, concluded, “Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that unprecedented legislative record [the attempt to eliminate the only black majority voting district] the court concludes that ‘current needs’ – the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting – do, in fact, justify Congress’s 2006 reauthorization imposed on covered jurisdictions.”

Maybe the county fathers will have better luck with Jim Beam than with Jim Crow.


Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins is associate editor of Political Affairs. Reach him at