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Bills setting legislative districts can be read aloud for hours on end. This would change that.

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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A robotic voice that reads long bills at length in the Alabama Legislature might have one less job if one lawmaker has anything to say about it.

When lawmakers were working to approve redrawn legislative districts in 2017 after a federal court ruled them unconstitutional, the robotic voice echoed through the halls of the Alabama Statehouse for nearly 16 hours.

The bill to shift about 70 House districts was being read at length at the call of Democratic lawmakers hoping to delay its approval.

The robotic machine chugged along, reading the 580-page bill and its more than 80,000 blocks and tracts until the GOP-held House passed the redistricting measure by a vote of 70-30.


A section from the 580-page 2017 House reapportionment bill, which was read at length for nearly 16 hours.


“The machines are reading in this drone of a voice,” said Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would do away with redistricting bills being read at length.

“You can listen to it, and even if you pay attention to it, you can’t make any sense out of it,” McClendon said. “You have no clue what they’re talking about.”

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No other legislation could move while the full bill was read. Things stalled. But no one could go home for a nap. The lawmaker who requested the reading could withdraw their request and a vote would immediately follow.

The process in the House — where debate in 2017 was most contentious — ended up eating almost two legislative days as the 2017 legislative session neared its end.

Republicans were irritated with the Democrats’ tactics, but the minority felt they had no other option after the majority voted to cloture debate.

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“If you were in that situation and did not have a voice, you would use every tool you had to try to get your message out,” Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said at the time. “We used the tools we had to try to get the message out.”

The bill redrawing Senate districts killed nearly a full legislative day in that chamber, too. It also ended up passing. The courts later upheld the redrawn districts after forcing lawmakers to make new maps following a ruling that the original districts, drawn by GOP lawmakers in 2011, were improperly based upon race.

Three of the districts were Senate districts and nine were in the House.

With less than two years until lawmakers will again be in the position of redrawing Alabama’s legislative and congressional districts after the 2020 census, one lawmaker is already looking ahead.

 McClendon, has introduced a constitutional amendment to end the practice of bills being read at length.

As things stand now, no vote is needed to initiate the reading process. If a lawmaker requests it prior to a vote, the electronic reading machine is turned on.

But the reality is that the process is enumerated in Alabama’s Constitution, and it’s been that way for decades.

“I’m sure it was a practical request in 1901,” McClendon said. “They didn’t have copy machines. They probably computers or laptops. I would imagine there were some legislators who made it to Montgomery who weren’t that accomplished at the written word anyway. But it’s not a good idea now.”

Democrats regularly use the procedural tactic to delay votes on all sorts of bills, but reading at length is most effective — and most time-consuming — with reapportionment bills, which typically run hundreds of pages.

“The only reason in the modern world to have a bill to be read at length would be to extract some kind of punishment on the people who are supporting the bill,” McClendon said. “Because it does not change the outcome at all.”

A reading of a full-length House district reapportionment bill could take upward of 25 hours, McClendon said. A full Senate bill could take between 12 and 14 hours.

“The outcome is not affected by reading the bill at length, and it does not enlighten anyone as to the content of the bill,” McClendon said.

McClendon’s bill would only affect reapportionment legislation.

“I wanted to do a bill that would include all reading at length but I thought I would just focus on this one issue and maybe someone else can come up with another one to get rid of all reading at length,” McClendon said.

Reapportionment, though often considered a boring subject to the public and legislators alike, is one of the most important acts of the Legislature. They not only decide state school board and state legislative districts, but they also decide the alignment of the state’s congressional districts.

The Black Caucus, who challenged the 2011 lines in the lawsuit, successfully argued in Federal court that the GOP packed black voters, who often support Democrats, into a handful of districts to limit the Democrats’ power.

Democrats, who were largely concerned about House districts in Jefferson County, felt they weren’t given enough say in the process of redrawing the 12 legislative districts found to be gerrymandered, so they resorted to reading at length.

“It’s not fun sitting in here reading where you’re not being productive,” Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said at the time. “We’d rather be productive, but the only thing we were asking for is fairness. You have just a few people from one little area basically tie up this whole Legislature. So you might as well not have representation from across this state.”

McClendon said in an interview with APR that he understands concerns about minority influence, but that reading at length never changes the outcome.

“It’s not much of a tool if it doesn’t fix anything or change anything. It’s just a delay tactic,” McClendon said. “If it were taking away something useful from the minority in expressing their position on something or getting something done, I would feel different about it. I don’t want to do that.”

The reality, though, is that the move does give the minority some leverage, especially at the end of the legislative session when the session has a time limit and other unrelated bills may still need attention.

The next U.S. Census will be held in 2020. The Legislature will receive data for reapportionment in the early part of 2021, and it will need to redraw the lines by election time in 2022.

The process could be even more contentious in 2021 if Alabama were to lose a congressional seat. If lawmakers have to draw out one of the state’s seven congressional districts, a serious battle could ensue.

If McClendon’s bill makes it out of committee to the floor, it would require approval by both chambers. At that point, it would be put on the 2020 primary ballot. Voters would be able to decide whether or not to end the practice.

 

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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Justice Ginsburg’s death will supercharge a heated 2020 campaign

The passing of one of the court’s most liberal justices so close to the Nov. 3 general election has set off a political firestorm as to what president should pick the next justice — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden, should he defeat Trump in November.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020. (STAFF SGT. TONY HARP/AIR NATIONAL GUARD AND GAGE SKIDMORE/FLIKR)

Just hours after the death of 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, conservatives, including the Alabama-based Foundation for Moral Law, said Ginsburg’s passing is an opportunity to reverse the ideological trend of the nation’s highest court.

The passing of one of the court’s most liberal justices so close to the Nov. 3 general election has set off a political firestorm as to what president should pick the next justice — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden, should he defeat Trump in November.

The controversy over when and how to confirm a new justice will likely supercharge an already heated 2020 election campaign. Trump was at a campaign rally on Friday night when he learned about the justice’s death from reporters.

“Just died? Wow, I did not know that,” Trump said. “She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not she led an amazing life. She was an amazing woman. I am sad to hear that.”

Ginsburg, since her appointment by President Bill Clinton, has been bastion of the court’s more liberal wing. The court was divided with four “liberal” justices led by Ginsburg and four “conservative” justices led by Samuel Alito.

Chief Justice John Roberts, though appointed by President George W. Bush, has been the swing vote on a number of major issues since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018. Her death gives Trump the opportunity to appoint her replacement and potentially shape the direction of the court for decades to come.

Conservatives want Trump to select the nominee and the current GOP-controlled Senate to confirm the Trump appointee.

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The Foundation for Moral Law — a conservative legal group founded by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — released a statement saying that Ginsburg’s passing is an opportunity to move the court in a more conservative direction.

“For many years United States Supreme Court has been a bastion for liberal anti-God ideology,” Moore said. “The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be an opportunity to reverse this trend. I’m hopeful that President Trump will immediately nominate a true conservative who understands that our rights come from God and no authority in this country can take those rights from us.”

“This is a very critical time for our country and our future and the future of our posterity depends upon our vigilance and direction,” Moore said.

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Judicial Watch, another conservative legal group, echoed Moore’s statement.

“Judicial Watch sends it condolences to the family of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had a wonderful judicial temperament that will always be remembered,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “President Trump now has a historic opportunity to nominate yet another constitutional conservative who will honor the Constitution and the rule of law across the full spectrum of constitutional issues.”

“And the U.S. Senate should move quickly to work with President Trump to consider and approve a new justice who will faithfully apply the U.S. Constitution,” Fitton said. “There is no reason we cannot have a new justice by Election Day.”

Trump is expected to put forth a nominee to fill Ginsburg’s seat in the coming days, according to ABC News.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, wrote in a statement that, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

But Democratic senators and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, disagree.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” Schumer wrote on social media Friday, parroting a similar quote McConnell used in 2016 when he refused to give then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, hearings and a vote for confirmation to the court. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Republicans in the Senate blocked Obama from selecting Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement. Scalia was the most conservative jurist on the court.

Ginsburg was a staunch supporter of abortion rights and voter protections, and she played a major role in upholding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights. She also voted in favor of same-sex marriage and to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Most political observers expect Trump to appoint a woman to fill Ginsburg’s spot. Political insiders have suggested that Trump believes that appointing a woman to the court could help him with woman, a key swing demographic that will likely decide the next election.

Will the Senate confirm Trump’s appointment before the election or wait until after the public votes? If Republicans lose control of the Senate, could a lame duck GOP majority select the direction of the court on their way out?

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has been widely criticized for his vote against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. If the vote comes before the Nov. 3 election, Jones’s decision on whether to confirm Trump’s appointee will be heavily scrutinized.

The questions about the Supreme Court is likely to only further inflame passions on both sides this election cycle.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Eddie Burkhalter

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(APR GRAPHIC/SUPREME COURT PORTRAIT)

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a champion of women’s rights and voter protections on the nation’s highest court — died Friday at the age of 87 from complications from metastatic pancreas cancer.

The justice died at her home in Washington D.C., surrounded by family. Only the second woman ever to be appointed to the highest court in the nation, she served 27 years on the court, becoming a champion for women’s rights and voter protections. 

“This news is a devastating loss for our country and for all those who have been inspired by the inimitable Justice Ginsburg during her long and historic career. Justice Ginsburg led a life guided by principle and filled with purpose. A true trailblazer in the legal field in her own right, she inspired generations of young women to reach for heights that previously felt impossible. Through her quiet dignity, her willingness to bridge political divides, and her steady pursuit of justice, she was a standard-bearer for positive leadership,” Sen. Doug Jones said in a statement. 

“Her bold dissents in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Shelby County v. Holder cases are particularly meaningful to me, and to so many in Alabama and across the country. She stood for what was right and for the constitutional principles of equality and democracy that she held dear, even if it meant she was in the minority on the Court. As only the second woman to ever serve on the Court, she made full use of her opportunity to serve as a voice for women on the bench.

“Beyond her legal acumen, Justice Ginsburg will also be remembered for her sharp wit, her tireless advocacy for voting rights, and her historic role in fighting for a more equal society for women across the country. She will be greatly missed. Louise and I extend our sincerest condolences to Justice Ginsburg’s loved ones. We’re praying for them as they grieve this tremendous loss,” Jones said. 

Margaret Huang, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement Friday said that our country has lost a monumental and transformative figure. 

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not only a trailblazer, a hero, and a singular inspiration, she was also a deeply principled person who demonstrated great courage and conviction throughout her entire legal career,” Huang said. 

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“At the time of her appointment in 1993, Justice Ginsburg was only the second woman to be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court, but it wasn’t her first time in the Court. As director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, she argued and won five cases before the Justices. And from her first term, she made it her mission to guarantee equal protection for women and other marginalized communities. We are eternally grateful for her decades of work — and landmark achievements — in pursuit of this essential goal.

“In her later years, she became an icon for a younger generation. Her resolute determination for justice inspired millions, including all of us at the Southern Poverty Law Center. With her countless accomplishments in mind and some of her courage in our hearts, we recommit ourselves to continuing her mission to achieve justice and equity for all,” Huang continued.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said our nation has lost a justice of historic stature.

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“We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice,” Roberts said.

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Governor announces $356,000 in grants to community agencies to address poverty

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced the award of $356,250 to 20 community action agencies statewide for programs aimed at reducing poverty. 

The Community Action Association of Alabama is to use the funds to support programs by the local agencies which help low-income families, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“Our state’s community action agencies provide vital services to low-income residents who are working to establish or regain their footing to be successful,” Ivey said in a statement. “I commend the work these agencies do to further the goal of reducing and eliminating poverty by helping families build brighter futures.”

The 20 agencies to receive the federal community service block grants offer educational and assistance programs, including job training and education opportunities, access to better nutrition and help with financial management and credit counseling, according to the release. 

The funds are administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and were appropriated by the state Legislature.  

“Gov. Ivey and ADECA fully support the assistance programs offered by these agencies because we have seen how they can serve as a jumpstart for life-changing success for Alabama families,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell in a statement. “ADECA is pleased to continue our partnership with the Community Action Association by supporting the many valuable programs offered by the state’s community action agencies.”

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Hindu temple planned for vacant theater in Hoover

Micah Danney

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The vacant AMC theater off Lorna Road in Hoover, Alabama. (IMAGE VIA GOOGLE)

A local Hindu organization purchased a 38,000-square-foot former theater in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover and plans to convert it into a sanctuary and educational space to serve the area’s growing Hindu community.

Hindus make up less than 1 percent of Alabama’s population, and while an accurate count of adherents in the state is hard to come by, the number of Hindus in the U.S. has more than doubled over the last decade. 

Rajan Zed, a prominent Hindu cleric based in Reno, Nevada, issued a statement claiming that there is an increasing population of Hindus in Alabama that will require new temples, or mandirs, to “help the community to pass on Hindu spirituality, concepts and traditions to coming generations amidst so many distractions in the consumerist society.” 

Zed urged Hoover’s mayor and city council to unanimously approve the temple plans, “thus expressing warm welcome to the caring Hindu community” that he said is known for its charity and community development.

BAPS Birmingham is the group that owns the theater property. It operates a temple in North Birmingham that is currently closed due the pandemic. It proposed the plans for its second temple, which include a large worship space and 14 classrooms, to the Hoover Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted on Monday to recommend them for approval by the city council.

Mayor Frank Brocato said that he doesn’t anticipate anything preventing that approval. 

Before it closed, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan temple hosted weekly assemblies and offered classes to teach children Gujarati, an Indian language distinct from Hindi but similar.

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There is another Hindu temple near Hoover not affiliated with BAPS, in neighboring Pelham. 

BAPS, which stands for Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, is a Hindu denomination established in 1907 with more than 1 million followers. It operates charities and learning centers worldwide and requires five lifetime vows from its followers: no alcohol, no addictions, no adultery, no meat and no impurity of body or mind.

The population of Hindus in the U.S. increased from 1.2 million in 2007 to 2.23 million in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Zed estimated that the number is around 3 million now. It is projected to reach 4.78 million in 2050, or 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.

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