Court Allows JRAC to Steal Judgeship From Jefferson County
Court dismisses case brought by the SPLC and ACLU-AL to prevent the removal of a judgeship from diverse Jefferson County to majority-white Madison County
MONTGOMERY – On Friday, August 12th a judge dismissed the case Hudson v. Ivey filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (ACLU-AL) that had the potential to restore a judgeship to Jefferson County. The litigation was filed to block a decision by the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission (JRAC) to remove a judgeship from diverse Jefferson County to majority-white Madison County. SPLC and ACLU attorneys are consulting with plaintiff Tiara Hudson about whether to appeal this decision.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy B, Pool dismissed the case on the basis that the plaintiff did not use the correct procedure to remove a sitting judge from office under these circumstances. The judgeship will remain in Madison County unless a higher court overrules Judge Pool’s decision.
A copy of the judge’s ruling can be found HERE.
“We are disappointed that the court refused to step in and prevent this unconstitutional removal of a circuit court judgeship from Birmingham,” said Ahmed Soussi, voting rights staff attorney with SPLC. “The community of Jefferson County deserves fair representation on the bench and access to a court system with the full resources to serve them, but they are being denied both by Alabama’s current system.”
“With his order dismissing Tiara Hudson's cause of action, Judge Pool has ruled that it is ok for the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission to do the Legislature’s job. Judge Tuten is a qualified and dedicated public servant; however, absent an act of the legislature, his appointment lacks proper legislative support,” said Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU-AL. “We remain concerned that this lack of jurisdiction under the law could call into question the outcome of any cases decided in his courtroom.”
On July 15th, the SPLC and ACLU-AL filed Hudson v. Ivey on behalf of Tiara Young Hudson challenging the constitutionality of the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission’s (JRAC) transfer of a vacant judgeship from a diverse Jefferson County community to majority-white Madison County. According to the filed complaint, this vacancy should be filled according to the process set forth in the Alabama Constitution: the Jefferson County Judicial Commission (JCJC) nominates three candidates, and the Governor chooses one for appointment. Hudson applied to JCJC to be considered for the position. JRAC, however, stepped in to frustrate this constitutional process, stripping Jefferson County of a criminal court judgeship and giving it to Madison County.
On May 24, 2022, Tiara Young Hudson earned nearly 54% of the vote in the primary election for the Tenth Judicial circuit court, Place 14 judgeship in Jefferson County and with no general election opponent, was on track to assume the judgeship from Judge Clyde Jones. On June 1, 2022, Judge Jones announced his retirement, effective immediately and created a judicial vacancy.
After Judge Jones announced his retirement, the Jefferson County Judicial Commission (“JCJC”) began identifying three suitable candidates to recommend to the Governor to fill the Birmingham Division vacancy. Hudson applied to JCJC to fill the vacancy until the election that will occur in November 2024.
On June 9, 2022, in the first judgeship transfer since JRAC was created, JRAC voted to permanently relocate the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Place 14 judgeship in Jefferson County to the Twenty Third Judicial Circuit in Madison County. All Black members of the Commission voted against transferring the judgeship and all white members voted in favor.
Members of the public overwhelmingly objected to the transfer, testifying during a meeting before the vote that it strips a county with a substantial Black population of a critical resource and gives that resource to a majority-white county. State Senator Roger Smitherman noted during testimony that Jefferson County, unlike Madison County, assigns case numbers in such a way that makes the county’s caseload appear smaller than it is. Additionally, he testified that the legislature has the funds to support up to 20 new judgeships, so no transfer was necessary.
JRAC was created by the state legislature as a separate, unaccountable entity with the purported authority transfer vacate judgeships between circuits.
However, the Alabama Constitution states that only the Legislature, incorporating recommendations of the Alabama Supreme Court, may change the number of judges allocated to a circuit or district. Plaintiffs allege that JRAC unconstitutionally usurps the legislature’s role in this process. In changing the number of judges in a circuit or district, JRAC assumes a lawmaking function the Alabama Constitution explicitly and exclusively assigns to the Legislature. The litigation alleged that JRAC exercised that unconstitutionally delegated power when it voted to move a judgeship from the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Jefferson County to the Twenty Third Judicial District in Madison County.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss to prevent the case from moving forward in court on Thursday August 4th, which was granted on Friday August 12th.