The Alabama Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Southern Poverty Law Center’s motion to remove a duly-appointed judge, and one of the justices condemned the center for “implicit accusations of racism” and “displays of racial bias.”
“Displays of racial bias would be shameful no matter the source, but they are especially troubling coming from a legal organization (the Southern Poverty Law Center) that purports to advance racial equality,” Alabama Supreme Court Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in a concurring opinion, released Friday.
The SPLC, a left-leaning activist group and nonprofit law firm known for bankrupting the Ku Klux Klan and branding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” represented Tiara Young Hudson, a public interest lawyer who won the Democratic primary for a circuit court judgeship in Jefferson County last May. She did not face any Republican opponent in the race.
Yet, Circuit Judge Clyde Jones resigned from the seat shortly thereafter, seven months before the end of his term, and the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission dissolved the judgeship in question, allocating it to Madison County, where Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, appointed Judge Patrick Tuten.
Hudson sued Ivey, Tuten, and Tom Parker, the chair of the state commission, aiming to block Tuten’s appointment and change the law to revoke the commission’s authority. The Montgomery Circuit Court denied her motion, and the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the denial.
The SPLC’s article on the case hailed Hudson, who would have been “the first Black woman with a background as a public defender to serve on the bench anywhere in Alabama.” It suggested that the state commission is “being weaponized to shuffle judgeships in such a way that diverse communities lack fair representation in the judiciary.”
Yet the legal briefs acknowledged that the case was procedural, not racially motivated.
Mitchell’s concurring opinion notes that Hudson challenged the law authorizing the commission to create judgeships. She did not “allege a violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” nor make “any claim for which racial discrimination (or any other type of discrimination) is an element.”
Her statements of fact, however, note that Hudson is “a Black female” and describe “the races of various people who are involved in the case, even though their races also have nothing to do with the legal claim stated in her complaint or the questions presented on appeal.”
“It appears that Hudson spends so much time focusing on race—her own race, the races of [the commission’s] members, and the racial demographics of Jefferson and Madison Counties—to insinuate [the] decision to reallocate the Jefferson County judgeship to Madison County was motivated by bigotry rather than by objective consideration” of the relevant factors, Mitchell notes.
While Hudson insinuates racial bias, she “stops short of actually arguing that point or presenting any evidence in support of it,” he added.
Hudson’s legal counsel, the SPLC, conceded that the decision “was based on the race-neutral ‘fact that all the studies show that Madison County is most in need and Jefferson County was the least in need’ of circuit judgeships based on the two counties’ respective caseloads,” Mitchell adds.
“To turn around after making such a concession and insinuate that the reallocation decision was motivated by racism reveals, at a minimum, questionable professional judgment,” the Supreme Court justice argues.
He also faults the SPLC’s filings on Hudson’s behalf for using “overtly biased language when referring to different racial groups.”
“Those filings capitalize ‘Black’ every time it appears, but do not capitalize ‘white’ anytime it appears, even when the two words appear side-by-side in the same sentence,” Mitchell notes. “The persistence of this pattern suggests that it is not an accident, but instead a deliberate choice, the effect of which is to signal that certain races deserve heightened respect while others do not.”
While The Associated Press news style guide encourages such usage, Mitchell writes that “it has no place in our legal system,” which is colorblind. “It should—but apparently does not—go without saying that the act of singling out certain races for special favor or disfavor does nothing to advance our nation’s shared commitment to ‘equality before the law.’”
The justice also faults the SPLC for including other “inappropriate material” in the brief; namely, the attorneys’ preferred personal pronouns. He writes that information about a lawyer’s “membership in political, religious, sexual, racial, or other identity groups … is inappropriate” and can “create the appearance that an attorney is attempting … to curry favor” with judges who share such identities.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, agreed with the justice’s complaints.
“Attorney General Marshall agrees with Justice Stewart’s unanimous majority opinion applying clear precedent to affirm the circuit court’s ruling that it lacked jurisdiction over plaintiff’s challenge,” Marshall’s office said in a statement shared with The Daily Signal on Tuesday. “Marshall likewise agrees with Justice Mitchell’s concurring opinion that plaintiff’s counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center showed, ‘at a minimum, questionable professional judgment’ by repeatedly insinuating that state officials acted from racist motives despite having conceded that they reallocated a judgeship to a new county based on the legitimate, race-neutral ground of the counties’ respective caseloads.”
“The ‘overtly biased language’ used by the SPLC lawyers in their pleadings and their baseless charges of racism have ‘no place in our legal system,’” Marshall’s office added.
The SPLC did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment on this issue.
The SPLC condemned the Supreme Court’s ruling in a statement Friday.
“Jefferson County residents deserve fair representation on the bench and a court system that meets their needs, but allowing the removal of an elected judgeship denies them both,” Jess Unger, the SPLC’s senior staff attorney for voting rights, wrote. “We’re disappointed that the court has refused to prioritize defending the rights of the Jefferson County community to fair representation and fair access to resources.”
Hudson echoed the racial insinuation in her statement on the ruling.
“I’m disappointed to be denied consideration for the seat I won a primary election for, but I’m even more disappointed that Jefferson County will be denied their right to an elected judge,” she said. “The decision to allow commissions to redistribute judicial seats without legislative approval diminishes the voice of a diverse community in choosing which judges will serve them.”
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