Newbern, Alabama Stopped Holding Elections In 1965—And Won’t Seat a Black Mayor | #elections | #alabama


In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, a landmark statute designed to dramatically increase Black people’s participation in electoral politics after centuries of slavery, segregation, and second-class citizenship. Newbern, Alabama, a small town in which two-thirds of 133 residents are Black, has not held a municipal election for some 60 years. What a coincidence!

In place of a democratically elected government, the town, which is located about an hour south of Tuscaloosa, has been ruled by a small group of white people who handpick their mayoral and town council in a form of hand-me-down governance. In recent years, some of Newbern’s residents have sought to change that. In a recent filing in federal court, the residents argue that the town’s failure to hold elections violates residents’ rights under the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, and ask the court to order the town to hold an election by November 2024.

The case is striking for multiple reasons, including, most obviously, the absurdity of the purported government’s departure from fundamental democratic principles. It is also a stark reminder of the real-world impact of federal courts in a political and legal system dominated by reactionary conservatives. Liberals are asking judges for small victories, launching last-ditch efforts to access basic rights under the Constitution. Conservatives, in contrast, are aiming much higher: For them, courts are a testing ground for novel ways to curtail rights nationwide. In federal trial courts, conservatives are having their cake and eating it too, while liberals are begging for crumbs.


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