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


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  • its about time someone showed them how it feels.
    this is a prejudice county and i know this to be true.
    this is the worst county to live in, in the state of alabama. they have peoples in the court systems that should not be in there, but they can do this and noone ever tell them this wrong. start with the courts and work your way down.

  • Shelby County and the state of Alabama have some nerve complaining about denial of their rights given their history of discrimination.

  • While the U.S. has a DEGREE of democracy, we still have discrimination/racism against nonwhite peoples, e.g., Native Hawaiians, Native Americans, & yes African Americans. Nowadays, it appears subtle, institutionlized, w/ the occasional overtness. Shelby county individuals appear to show the subtle, crying foul against the Voting Rights Act being unconstitutional. W/O it however, would the ignoring/supressing of black voting rights have continuned ? Or all “Southern gentlemen”simply “repenting,” “magically” discarding their historical conditioning of seeing blacks as “the other.” The individuals citing “states rights” is revealing, given the historical use of that very thing to maintain slavery,plus given the “current darkness” of general Right wing belligerence. Fortunately, many in the U.S. South, e.g., know better than this.

  • I am in no way defending Shelby county or disputing the federal decision and racism is clearly still a political and social issue for all of America, however I dislike the sardonic tone of this article. I am currently a resident of Birmingham, a member of the CPUSA, and have lived in Southeastern states for most of my life. There are just as many, if not more, civic minded and progressive residents here as there anywhere else in the country. I live four blocks from the historical CPUSA headquarters that were raided and set aflame in the 1940’s. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive but the author seems to be implying that the Southeast is a politically backward place, this is not the case. It is simply that the Southeast has been dominated by a reactionary minority for half a century or so. I appreciate the article and its content, but perhaps the author should try to avoid reinforcing unfounded stereotypes.


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