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Judge hears arguments in Democratic Party leadership dispute

July 6, 2021 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge in Montgomery heard arguments Tuesday in the ongoing legal fight over control of the Alabama Democratic Party.

U.S. District Judge Austin Huffaker Jr. heard arguments centering on whether new 2019 bylaws — which led to the election of new party leaders — violated an agreement that settled a 1989 lawsuit over Black representation in the party’s leadership, Al.com reported.

The State Democratic Executive Committee elected state Rep. Chris England as chair under new 2019 bylaws which expanded the State Democratic Executive Committee with new diversity caucuses representing young voters, LGBTQ, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders, native Americans, and people with disabilities.

A lawyer for former Democratic Party officials Randy Kelley and Janet May argued that the new bylaws violate the 1991 agreement that ensured a level of Black representation on the committee

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Bryan Sells, an attorney representing Kelley and May, said a key point is that the 2019 bylaws changed the way the SDEC elects at-large members. The SDEC’s Black caucus elected the at-large members under the old bylaws. The 2019 bylaws give that authority to the full SDEC.

“Our claims are about the political power of Black voters,” Sells told the judge. “Who gets to choose people who sit on the SDEC? Is it white Democrats or Black Democrats?”

Barry Ragsdale, who represents England and other defendants, told the judge that the plaintiffs have not explained how the 2019 bylaws violated the 1991 consent decree, which was an attempt to ensure that Blacks were represented on the SDEC in proportion to their participation in Democratic Party primaries.

Ragsdale noted that Blacks hold 62.8% of the seats on the SDEC now, the same percentage as before the 2019 bylaws were adopted.

England is also the first Black chair in the state party’s history.

Huffaker gave the parties about two weeks to file more court briefs to support their arguments. The judge said he would rule soon after that.

Ragsdale said in-fighting among Democrats does nothing but hurt the party.

“Either way it’s doing nothing but helping Republicans,” Ragsdale said. “It’s giving aid and comfort to the people we ought to be fighting against. It’s unnecessary and an unforced error.”