Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Alabama

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At a Glance

Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Alabama is a legal challenge to Alabama’s restrictive voter photo ID law. In 2011, Alabama passed a law that required that citizens present one of a list of permissible photo IDs in order to vote. The undisputed evidence in this case was that black and Latino voters in Alabama are more likely to lack the required identification to vote. Thousands of voters have had their provisional ballots rejected due to the restrictive photo ID law. 

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About this Case

About the Case

Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Alabama is a legal challenge to Alabama’s restrictive voter photo ID law. In 2011, Alabama passed a law that required that citizens present one of a list of permissible photo IDs in order to vote. Although it was passed in 2011, the law was not put into effect by Alabama until after 2013 when the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the preclearance regime that barred voting changes that harmed minority voters’ opportunity to participate in the political process. The groups challenging the law have unearthed significant evidence that the 2011 law was passed with a discriminatory purpose. Indeed, framers of the photo ID law referred to black voters as “aborigines” and “illiterates” and suggested that Alabama’s prior lack of a photo ID law was “beneficial to the black power structure” and “‘benefit[ed] black elected leaders.” The undisputed evidence in this case was that black and Latino voters in Alabama are more likely to lack the required identification to vote. Thousands of voters have had their provisional ballots rejected due to the restrictive photo ID law. And black voters were nearly five times more likely to have their ballots rejected than white voters. Thousands more people likely did not appear at the polls to vote because they lacked the required photo ID.

In 2015, Greater Birmingham Ministries and other plaintiffs, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, brought suit asserting that the law violates the 14th and 15th Amendments, as well as the Voting Rights Act.

What’s at Stake?

Despite significant evidence that this law was motivated by an intent to discriminate, the district court dismissed GBM’s suit because it considered the law’s requirements as a mere inconvenience. Based on its own determination, without a trial, that the law’s burden on voters was “slight,” the district court refused to even consider the plaintiffs’ evidence that the law targeted minority communities.  

This district court’s decision is not consistent with decades of law on how courts must analyze claims of intentional discrimination. Laws that are passed with the aim of harming or favoring any racial group are unconstitutional, plain and simple. A court analyzing such a claim must evaluate all the evidence of intentional discrimination and determine whether discrimination motivated the law. If so, the court must strike down the law. Racially discriminatory laws have no legitimacy whatsoever.

CLC joined Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU, and ACLU of Alabama to file a friend-of-the-court brief drawing the Eleventh Circuit’s attention to the critical missteps in the district court’s opinion. 

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