THE BLOG

'Anti-Immigrant' Jeff Sessions and Alabama's Racist Voter ID Law

08/28/2014 05:51 pm ET | Updated Oct 28, 2014
  • Victor Williams Founder, DisruptiveJustice.org.; Attorney; Clinical Asst. Prof., CUA Law School

Precious Memories, Part IV [Final].

I never expected to miss the Southland. Going north to Harvard and then west to law school, I returned South only once to law clerk for a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama. Then, it was directly back north to Manhattan.

As relayed in Part I of this series, the South has been increasingly on my mind and in my heart. After learning that Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions would face neither primary nor general election opposition, my Southern focus turned political.

Sessions is the Senate's most extreme anti-immigration, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-veteran, anti-health care ideologue. How could Alabama Democrats have failed to field an opponent to Sessions? The answer: Republicans have total control of Alabama state government. Alabama Democrats were demoralized by partisan ballot deadline shenanigans, a racist Voter ID law, and discriminatory legislative redistricting.

This brought strong memories of my years' clerking for U.S. District Judge Brevard Hand of the Southern District of Alabama. That is when I first met Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III. He was then U.S. Attorney in Mobile.

Now I return to Alabama federal court to demand ballot access to run against Jeff Sessions and to invalidate Alabama's Voter ID law. (Williams v. Bennett, No. Civ. 14: 890). As relayed in Part III of Precious Memories, however, it is in humble answer to a Macedonian call that I launch an "outside agitator" DeportJeffSessions.com campaign.

Holding Court in Mobile and Selma (during deer season); "Moderate" U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions?

In hiring me from San Francisco (Hastings, J.D.), Judge Hand sought to annoy the good ole' boys surrounding him. I accepted the job with the understanding that I had an obligation to disagree with the unusual jurist. I was an in-chambers, "outside agitator."

John Grisham could not conjure more colorful and conflictive characters than those practicing law in the district's courthouses in Mobile. Judge Hand also presided at the Selma Courthouse, however, only during Alabama's deer hunting season. In a purposeful slight to Selma's historic place in Alabama's legal history, Judge Hand and all (male) chambers and court staff relocated for two weeks of rough communal living in a hunting camp in the woods outside the city during deer season. We went into Selma only for court. All per diem was pocketed rather than going to a Selma hotel.

After enduring a traditional hazing and finding my domestic refuge in the utopia-experiment of Fairhope across Mobile Bay, I gamely undertook my "outside-agitator" role for two years. Alabama became home.

In refreshing contrast to the many reactionary jesters in Hand's immediate court, I found U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions to be a relative moderate. Then, he betrayed none of the bias with which he was charged during his 1986 failed Senate confirmation hearings for a judgeship. I now confess error in that earlier assessment.

Sessions Turns Conservative, then Hard-Right; now Hard-Hearted

Jeff Sessions turned very conservative for his 1998 Senate victory and even more so for his two reelections. Beginning in 2011, he went reactionary, playing to the national Tea Party fringe. Fast forward to 2014 to find a hard-right and hard-hearted Jeff Sessions. With increasingly harsh rhetoric, he advances mean-spirited public policy initiatives against the weakest in our society - even against veterans' health care.

Sen. Sessions reserves his most caustic, reactionary rhetoric for damning hard-working immigrants and President Barack Obama's rational immigration efforts. Sessions' anti-immigrant passion seems more fetish than public policy.

Jim Crow Re-Dux: Alabama's Voter ID Violates Section 2 of Voting Rights Act and Fourteenth Amendment

I filed my federal lawsuit on August 25, 2014. Unless my ballot access litigation is successful, Jeff Sessions will essentially be "appointed" to the U.S. Senate for six years by state party bosses who gave him the GOP nomination. At stake is nothing less than the Seventeenth Amendment right of Alabamians to vote for their next U.S. Senator.

In future posts, I will share progress in the more complicated and challenging ballot access portion of the litigation. However, the litigation's additional challenge to Alabama's racially discriminatory Voter ID law is easier to explain and to win.

Alabama's photographic voter identification law places an unjustified burden on the right of racial minority citizens to vote. It is a facial violation of both the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The statute has a disproportionate impact on Blacks and Latinos and produces a "discriminatory result" that works to disenfranchise a wide-range of minority voters.

Renowned Auburn University Historian Wayne Flint has well-described the Alabama Voter ID regime in practice as "marginalizing black voters and Hispanic voters by challenging citizenship, by challenging residence, by challenging who they are."

Professor Flint details why the Voter ID law discriminates against racial minorities, ethnic groups, and those individuals on the outside of our economic/social majority system:

For an African American with no education, for an African American who has dropped out of every visible kind of system - worked in an underground economy, not paid taxes, got paid in cash - to get a photo ID is to get inside that system, which you do not trust and do not understand. It's even worse for Hispanics.

Worse than any Jim Crow poll tax, the Voter ID law attacks social and economically vulnerable citizens' very identity as they consider exercising their most precious freedom. It intimidates and threatens long before election day.

The Alabama GOP's widely-advertised "ransom" of $1000 for proof of Voter ID violations provides clear evidence of the statute's invidious discriminatory intent and effect.

As the NYU's Brennan Center reports, Alabama is not alone in this ugly effort.

The U.S. Department of Justice has recently brought Section 2 challenges
against Voter ID laws in various jurisdictions. State courts in Arkansas and Pennsylvania recently invalidated Voter ID laws.

Most recently, in Wisconsin, a federal trial court struck down a Voter ID statute similar to Alabama's law, finding that "plaintiffs have shown that the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination." The opinion elegantly connected the socio-economic and race dots of Voter ID intimidation:

Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. Individuals who live in poverty are less likely to drive or participate in other activities for which a photo ID may be required (such as banking, air travel, and international travel) and so they obtain fewer benefits from possession of a photo ID than do individuals who can afford to participate in these activities.

Jim Crow has been at-large in the nation but has now returned home to Alabama. Through federal litigation and my continued campaign for the U.S. Senate (DeportJeffSessions.com), I humbly answer the Macedonian call. In his LETTER FROM A BIRMINGHAM JAIL, Martin Luther King, Jr. explains why I must.

Earnestly, I ask others to join in this "outside-agitator" campaign to win back the Heart of Dixie.
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Victor Williams is an attorney in Washington D.C. and clinical assistant professor at Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. Victor Williams founded the American Institute for Disruptive Innovation in Law and Politics --
DisruptiveJustice.org. Prof Williams is formally a candidate for the U.S. Senate for Alabama.

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