AL.com reports that the Alabama State Board of Education (ABE) is seeking dismissal of a suit challenging the state’s takeover of Birmingham’s school system. In the spring of 2012 the state board of education voted to intervene in the financially struggling Birmingham City Schools system. Since then state officials have overridden several Birmingham Board of Education votes. In February a group of five voters, including then-Birmingham Board of Education members Virginia Volker and Emanuel Ford and Alabama Education Association representative Michael Todd, who lives in the city, filed a lawsuit that says the state’s intervention in the city school system violated Sections 2 and 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). That group contends the state school board grabbed authority away from voters who elected the Birmingham Board of Education, which is majority black. The state board should have gotten pre-approval for its 2012 intervention plan under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the group argued.
The suit was brought under § 5 and § 2 of the VRA. The federal district court dismissed the § 5 count in July 2013 based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 striking down that part of the law, which required Alabama and some other states to have election changes pre-approved.
The ABE has filed a motion to dismiss the remaining § 2 claim. It contends that § 2, which prohibits discrimination in voting nationwide, is not applicable because there is no claim that “any Birmingham voter was, or will be, deprived of the right to vote, or that the strength of any person’s vote has been diluted compared to anyone else’s vote.” The motion further argues that unlike the typical § 2 claim, where the plaintiffs contend that an election scheme dilutes a racial group’s ability to elect their preferred candidate, the Birmingham plaintiffs are employing § 2 to “remedy ‘dilution’ of the authority of public officials who have already been elected – in non-discriminatory elections – and taken office.”
The ABE argues that such a claim is “simply not a VRA claim.” It contends the case such be dismissed because “there is no constitutionally protected right to vote for members of the school board, and the intervention was rationally related to a legitimate state purpose.” ABE’s motion further states that ”the elected members of the Birmingham BOE have continued to exercise their authority as board members, except on a few specific occasions when Dr. Richardson [serving as the State-appointed Chief Financial Officer of the Birmingham Board of Education] required the Board to take particular fiscally prudent actions.”
Source: AL.com, 12/5/13, By Kent Faulk
[Editor's Note: In February 2013, Legal Clips summarized a story on WBRC Fox 6 reporting that the Alabama Education Association had filed suit in federal court against ABE, state Superintendent Tommy Bice, and Ed Richardson, Chief Financial Officer of Birmingham City Schools, alleging that voters in the city of Birmingham have been disenfranchised by the state takeover of the city’s school system.
The U.S. Supreme Court VRA decision referred to in the AL.com article, Shelby Cnty., AL v. Holder, as summarized by Legal Clips in June 2013, held that § 4 of the VRA is unconstitutional and its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.]