By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Governor is breaking the law.
That is the legal opinion of State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) of Gov. Robert Bentley’s plan to hold a special election for Jeff Sessions’ US Senate seat during the General Election in 2018.
Bentley signed a resolution announcing his intent to fill the seat at the next general election on Tuesday, a few days after appointing former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to take Sessions’ place.
England, an attorney by trade, said at a press conference held by the legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday afternoon, that Alabama Code dictates that a special election for the seat be held “forthwith” and sets other parameters.
“This is really not a complicated piece of law,” England said. “It spells this out very clearly. In fact, it’s only complicated if you’re trying to break it.”
England posted a copy of the code section on his Twitter feed last week. It states that the Governor should hold the election for the new Senator at the next general election only if the vacancy occurs less than four months and more than 60 days from the next general election.
Otherwise, a special election to fill the seat should be called forthwith.
“The code is very clear,” England said. “And it’s very clear that the Governor is in violation of the law.”
England and other members of the caucus threatened legal action if Bentley doesn’t reschedule the election, although they said they would prefer not to travel that route.
However, Bentley’s office does not believe that to be the case. In a lengthy email explanation sent to APR, the Governor’s office explained that the process for filling a vacant US Senate seat breaks into three options: less than 60 days, four months or less and more than four months.
The Governor’s office said it believes that the last scenario fits the current situation best, which means that the only parameters for filling the seat is that it be done “forthwith.”
Bentley’s office then provided an explanation for how it determined the term “forthwith,” and it cited two legal cases. The first related to federal laws that require service men and women to have access to ballots 45 days prior to a federal election.
The second case involved a 2016 Federal court ruling that declared unconstitutional Alabama’s requirement that third-party candidates collect signatures within 56 days of an announced election.
Bentley’s office also cited the cost of a special election, which it placed into the millions of dollars.
“For these reasons, the 2018 general election is the most reasonable time to hold the special election to fill the unexpired term of Senator Sessions,” the email read.
When asked directly if the governor’s office was stating that one year and nine months meets the definition of “forthwith,” a spokesperson for Bentley answered only, “Yes.”
The reasoning did not sway England.
“This is absurd,” England said when forwarded a copy of Bentley’s explanation. “Absolutely ridiculous.”
The issue also found its way into a new push for impeachment of Bentley by a pair of Cullman Republicans. Reps. Corey Harbison and Randall Shedd noted Bentley’s failure to call for a special election as part of their reasoning for calling on House members to impeach Bentley.