Voting rights organizations hope to block JRAC from removing judgeship from diverse Jefferson County and sending it to majority-white Madison County
MONTGOMERY – On Monday, August 22nd, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (ACLU-AL) appealed Hudson v. Ivey to overturn the case’s earlier dismissal. Hudson v. Ivey challenges the constitutionality of the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission’s (JRAC) transfer of a vacant judgeship, expected to be filled by Tiara Young Hudson, from a diverse Jefferson County community to majority-white Madison County. The case now moves to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy B, Pool dismissed the case on Friday, August 12th 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 notice of appeal can be found HERE.
“It is imperative that the court block this unconstitutional removal of a judgeship from the diverse community of Jefferson County to a majority-white Madison County when there are better solutions for delivering adequate judicial resources to both communities,” said Ahmed Soussi, the Voting Rights staff attorney with SPLC. “We will not rest until Jefferson County has fair representation in the judiciary and adequate resources to address the needs of the community.”
“Judge Pool’s decision to dismiss Ms. Hudson’s case leaves in place a judgeship that lacks the proper constitutional authority to adjudicate cases in Madison County and strips the Jefferson County courts of a judgeship that it is supposed to retain under Alabama law,” said Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for ACLU-AL. “Our appeal seeks to clarify how, absent legislative intervention, judicial resources are to be distributed so that every jurisdiction has the judges needed to reduce the statewide backlog of cases.”
“I have been forced to endure extraordinary burdens to serve my community as a judge, from winning a primary election, to applying through the Jefferson County Judicial Commission, to filing litigation, to now filling an appeal,” said plaintiff Tiara Hudson. “We must eliminate the barriers I have been forced to overcome, restore the constitutional process for allocating judges, and defend the equal rights of attorneys of color, like me, to serve their communities as judges.”
On July 15th, the SPLC and ACLU-AL filed Hudson v. Ivey on behalf of Tiara Young Hudson 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.
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 23rd Judicial District in Madison County.