Preliminary Injunction would allow seat to remain in Jefferson County for remainder of trial, possibly to be filled by Tiara Hudson
MONTGOMERY – TODAY, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (ACLU-AL) advocated in a Preliminary Injunction (PI) hearing that the decision by the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission (JRAC) to remove a judgeship from diverse Jefferson County to majority-white Madison County must be immediately nullified. The judge heard arguments on the PI as well as a motion to dismiss filed by the defendants, and may schedule further PI hearings before ruling.
The hearing and PI forms part of the case Hudson vs. Ivey, challenging the constitutionality of using JRAC to transfer vacant judicial seats.
“The decision to remove a judgeship from Jefferson County and send it to a majority white county must be nullified immediately to ensure that Jefferson County communities have fair representation in the judiciary,” said Liza Weisberg, voting rights staff attorney with SPLC. “The Alabama Constitution requires the Jefferson County vacancy to be filled by a Jefferson County judge, and the community deserves no less.”
“Today’s hearing was the first step in what we anticipate will be a long process to prove that Alabama’s Judicial Resources Allocation Commission lacks the constitutional authority to eliminate the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Place 14 judgeship in Jefferson County. What’s most disappointing is that our case would be unnecessary if the state legislature were to do its job and appropriately fund our state’s court system,'' said Tish Gotell Faulks legal director for the ACLU-AL. "Both Madison and Jefferson Counties need a full slate of judges for the state’s courts to do its work efficiently, and we will continue fighting for fair representation.”
On July 15th, the SPLC and ACLU-AL filed Hudson Vs. 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. According to the litigation, 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.