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A new lawsuit in an old fight for Alabama Democrats

The argument is identical to one made in state courts in 2018 and 2019. Those lawsuits were eventually tossed by the courts.

Alabama State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Alabama Democrats are suing each other again. A lawsuit filed in federal court this week by two long-time Democrats accuses the current Alabama Democratic Party leadership of violating a long-standing consent decree that ensures Blacks are represented within the State Democratic Executive Committee in proportion to Black voters in the state. 

The argument is identical to one made in state courts in 2018 and 2019. Those lawsuits were eventually tossed by the courts. 

“This is wasting a lot of money that could certainly be better spent,” said Barry Ragsdale, an attorney representing the current ADP leadership. “The timing of it really couldn’t be worse. It was filed the day before the inauguration, when we’re looking to push forward as a party with the momentum from those events. Instead, we’re fighting the same fights, again.”

The lawsuit, filed by Randy Kelly and Janet May — two long-time members of the SDEC — claims that ADP’s new bylaws, which were adopted after a lengthy, tumultuous period in 2018 that involved officials at the national level and more court fights, violate a 1991 federal consent decree that established rules for Black representation within SDEC. 

Those rules, which dictated that Black representation on the SDEC had to be proportional to Black voters in the most recent statewide election, have been used in recent years to give Alabama Democratic Conference chairman Joe Reed immense power in choosing party leadership. That allowed Reed to keep former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley in charge. 

But with ADP steadily losing races and power within the state, others saw a stagnant party in desperate need of new leadership … and woefully out of compliance with the national party’s bylaws. While the minority caucus, which was the Alabama Democratic Conference, represented Black members very well, the party was failing to include other minority groups. 

ADP’s bylaws were changed dramatically to bring them in line with the DNC’s expectations, and once the new Minority Caucus was added, Reed’s ability to stack the SDEC with hand-picked members loyal to him was undercut. 

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A new-look SDEC voted for current chairman Rep. Chris England, a Black lawmaker from Tuscaloosa, and Patricia Todd, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker. 

However, the lawsuit says those votes were improper because the changes in bylaws illegally diluted the representation of Blacks within the SDEC. 

Just as when this case was first filed, African Americans do not have an equal opportunity to elect Committee members from Alabama’s state House districts, which are predominantly white,” the lawsuit states. “The October 5 bylaws thus increase the impact of white voters at the expense of Black voters and dilute Black Democrats’ voting strength on the Party’s governing bodies.”

ADP has maintained throughout the legal challenges to the new bylaws that the changes provide not only for more minority participation, but also for increased Black participation since many of the members in the other minority groups are also Black. Overall, the percentage of Black representation within the SDEC increased. 

Interestingly, in addition to England and the entire SDEC, the lawsuit names outgoing DNC chairman Tom Perez as defendants. Jaime Harrison, a former U.S. Senate candidate from South Carolina, will replace Perez at the end of the week. Whether that changeover played any role in the filing of the suit after 15 months is unclear. 

It is also unclear which federal judge will hear the case. It will land initially in front of Judge Myron Thompson, however, because his son was elected to the SDEC following the changes, many predict he might recuse. That could leave the fate of the ADP in the hands of a Trump-appointed Republican judge.

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Josh Moon
Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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