Friday, September 30, 2016

Make Courts More Racially Diverse

Imagine one of the highest courts in the land being made up solely of White Americans. No, this is not the Pre-Civil Rights Movement America we are talking about. This is the modern state of affairs in Alabama’s supreme court, where all nine justices are white. In fact, years prior to the passing of the Voter’s Rights Act, Alabama’s highest court was still presided over by an all-white ensemble of judges. One might ask, why is this even problematic? The thing is, this not only shows how progression is moving at a snail’s pace in Alabama, but also puts blacks and other minorities at a severe disadvantage. It is time for Alabama to integrate its courts, enabling people who are not white to have a larger voice in their community in the form of fair and just representation.

Stephanie Mencimer of talks about this topic at length, explaining why this is problematic and speaks about a lawsuit that could potentially address and fix this issue.

 Only two African Americans have ever served, and only after first being appointed by a governor. The state's other highest appellate courts, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Civil Appeals, have never seen a black judge, despite the fact that more than a quarter of the state's voting-age population is African American. (Only two African Americans have been elected to a statewide office in Alabama. Ever.)[1]

Mencimer also points out the following:

In 1986, a federal judge concluded that after Reconstruction, Alabama intentionally shifted its elections from single-member district style voting to at-large races to dilute the voting strength of African Americans, "consistently erect[ing] barriers to keep black persons from full and equal participation in the social, economic and political life of the state."(1)

This situation is also problematic not only because it alienates African Americans from having representation in the courts, but also because statistics indicate that the Alabama’s criminal justice system as a whole reflects racial bias. This is shown by the sentencing of [primarily] minority children due to mandatory life without parole sentences in addition to 80% of people on death row being convicted of killing a white person. In addition, even if African Americans make up only 25% of Alabama’s population, they make up 60% of its population within prisons.

In my opinion, this perpetuation of an all-white supreme court is a deliberate attempt to marginalize blacks and other minorities. Alabama’s highest court being made up only of white individuals demonstrates how backwards this state is when it comes to voting rights. Thankfully, voting rights activists have aimed their sights on this issue today. Voting rights activists’ lawsuit centralizes on the idea that Alabama courts should change their voting procedures and effectively provide minority communities the choice to elect candidates they deem would benefit their interests.

If Alabama took the initiative to change its highest court’s racial composition and the process of being elected to courts, there would definitely be more positive outcomes and less bias in that state’s prison population. I think that Alabama’s high courts should heed the warnings of voting rights activists and their lawsuits because this simply is not the mid 1900s. African Americans and other people of color deserve a voice in their community and bias against them in a so called ‘justice system’ renders this system unjust.

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