Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, 2:15–cv–02193–LSC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
Writing for the CourtL. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge
Citation284 F.Supp.3d 1253
Parties GREATER BIRMINGHAM MINISTRIES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. John MERRILL, in his official capacity as the Alabama Secretary of State, Defendant.
Docket Number2:15–cv–02193–LSC
Decision Date10 January 2018

284 F.Supp.3d 1253

GREATER BIRMINGHAM MINISTRIES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
John MERRILL, in his official capacity as the Alabama Secretary of State, Defendant.

2:15–cv–02193–LSC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division.

Signed January 10, 2018


284 F.Supp.3d 1255

Christina Swarns, Deuel Ross, Leah C. Aden, Natasha Merle, Victorien Wu, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., John Michael Geise, Swati R. Prakash, Covington & Burling LLP, New York, NY, Coty Montag, Daniel Harawa, Elizabeth Reese, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., James McCall Smith, Joanne B. Grossman, Covington & Burling LLP, Nana Wilberforce, Washington, DC, Joshua A. Gonzalez, Michael S. Greenberg, Nathan E. Shafroth, Richard B. Oatis, Robert D. Fram, Ryan M. Buschell, Sylvia Huang, Covington & Burling LLP, San Francisco, CA, Wallace J. Lee, Covington & Burling LLP, Redwood Shores, CA, Xiyun Yangy, Covington & Burling LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Herman N Johnson, Jr., Madison, AL, Joseph Mitchell McGuire, McGuire & Associates LLC, Montgomery, AL, for Plaintiff.

Corey L. Maze, James W. Davis, Misty Shawn Fairbanks Messick, Winfield J. Sinclair, Mary Kathryn Mangan, Office of the Attorney General, Laura E. Howell, Alabama Attorney General's Office, William G. Parker, Jr., Office of the Governor Alabama State Capitol, Montgomery, AL, Richard J. Laird, Jr., Anniston, AL, for Defendant.

L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge

284 F.Supp.3d 1256

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This case addresses the voting rights claims of Plaintiffs Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("the Alabama NAACP"), Giovana Ambrosio, Shameka Harris, and Elizabeth Ware, against John Merrill in his official capacity as Alabama's Secretary of State ("Secretary Merrill"). In this action, Plaintiffs challenge Alabama's Photo Voter Identification Law, House Bill 19 of 2011, codified at Ala. Code § 17–9–30 (1975) ("the Photo ID Law"), which requires absentee and in-person voters to show photo identification in order to cast a regular ballot, subject to some exceptions. Plaintiffs allege that the law has a racially discriminatory purpose and effect that violates the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the Photo ID Law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301, Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10501, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Based on their claims, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement of the Photo ID Law. Secretary Merrill denies Plaintiffs' allegations and contends that the law was passed for valid and non-discriminatory purposes, that nearly every eligible voter in Alabama has an acceptable photo ID, and that anyone who does not have an acceptable photo ID can easily obtain one.

Presently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment filed by all parties. Specifically, Secretary Merrill has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking the dismissal of all of Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. 236.) Plaintiffs have filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment seeking a judgment in their favor on one of their claims and on one discrete issue. (Doc. 234.) For the reasons that follow, Secretary Merrill's motion is due to be granted and this action dismissed in its entirety.1

284 F.Supp.3d 1257

II. FACTS2

A. Historical and Contemporaneous Background

Penalties for voter fraud have existed in Alabama since the 1850s. While cases of proven in-person voter fraud in Alabama are extremely rare, there are some documented cases of absentee voter fraud in Alabama in recent history. For example, a July 1996 article in The Birmingham News discussed the types of voter fraud allegedly occurring in Alabama: "Since 1994, affidavits and courtroom testimony have established the following abuses: (1) absentee ballots cast in the names of dead people and people who have long since moved out of the county; (2) absentee ballots mailed to unregistered voters; (3) voter brokers following mail trucks and removing absentee ballots from mailboxes; (4) intimidation of poor and elderly voters who are made to fear a cutoff of their governmental assistance from local politicians if they do not cooperate by handing over their absentee ballots; (5) pressuring and solicitation of nursing home patients; (6) vote buying at $5 and $10 a piece; (7) bulk mailing of hundreds of absentee ballots by just a few individuals in some counties...." The State and federal governments worked together to investigate and prosecute voter fraud in absentee voting in places like Greene and Wilcox counties. Various citizen groups formed to spread the word about the need for a photo ID law to combat voter fraud, such as the bi-racial Honest Elections Coalition.

In 1995, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 went into effect, allowing persons to register to vote at motor vehicle and public welfare agencies or by mailing in easily-available voter registration forms. See 52 U.S.C. § 20501 et seq. The Act led to 180,000 new, disproportionately Black and low-income people becoming registered voters in 1995 in Alabama.

Although some in the Legislature tried, voter ID bills failed in the Legislature in the nineties. In 1998, Governor Fob James, Attorney General Bill Pryor, and Secretary of State Jim Bennett were unified in fighting for a voter ID law. An article reported that then-Attorney General Bill Pryor "believes honest elections would restore voter confidence and increase turnout. He said critics who claim there's no vote fraud need to check the record. State and federal prosecutors have won convictions in several counties against officials and citizens who illegally cast ballots."

By 2000, fourteen other states requested some kind of ID in order to vote. In 2003, Alabama passed a voter ID law that allowed the use of both photo and non-photo ID. See Ala. Act No. 2003–381. The law was the result of a deal that Democrat Legislators would support the bill as long as Republican Legislators would support a bill that would restore the voting rights of certain felons once they were released from prison and paid their fines. Acceptable forms of identification under the 2003 law included (1) a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other document with the voter's address, (2) a valid Alabama hunting or fishing license, (3) a valid Alabama concealed carry permit, (4) a valid pilot's license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, (5) a certified birth

284 F.Supp.3d 1258

certificate, (6) a valid social security card, (7) certified naturalization documentation, (8) a certified copy of court records showing adoption or name change, (9) a valid Medicare, Medicaid, or electronic benefits transfer card, and (10) a valid voter registration card. In addition, a voter could cast a ballot if he or she was "positively identified by two election officials." At that time, the Voting Rights Act required Alabama to seek preclearance for any change in voting requirements from either the U.S. Attorney General or a three-judge court in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See Shelby Cty. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 2620, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013). The U.S. Attorney General precleared Alabama's 2003 voter ID law, including the positively identify provision, and the law remained in effect until 2014.

In 2005, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, issued a report encouraging States to move towards requiring voters to present photo IDs before being allowed to cast a ballot. See Report of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, Building Confidence in U.S. Elections § 2.5 (Sept. 2005) ("the Carter–Baker Report"). The Carter–Baker Report found that even in the absence of extensive voter fraud, the use of photo IDs would inspire public confidence in the voting process and act as a deterrent to fraud. See id. ("In the old days and in small towns where everyone knows each other, voters did not need to identify themselves. But in the United States, where 40 million people move each year, and in urban areas where some people do not even know the people living in their own apartment building let alone their precinct, some form of identification is needed....Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.").

In 2008, Indiana's photo ID law was challenged, and it was upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Bd. , 553 U.S. 181, 128 S.Ct. 1610, 170 L.Ed.2d 574 (2008). The next year, the Eleventh Circuit upheld Georgia's photo ID law. Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups , 554 F.3d 1340 (11th Cir. 2009).

Between 1995 and 2011, Black legislators and other individuals in Alabama argued at length about how requiring photo ID would disfranchise voters who lack access to vehicles and specifically about the anticipated effect of...

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  • People First of Ala. v. Merrill, Civil Action Number 2:20-cv-00619-AKK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • June 15, 2020
    ..., 553 U.S. at 196–97, 128 S.Ct. 1610 ; Common Cause , 554 F.3d at 1353–54 ; see also Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill , 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1277 (N.D. Ala. 2018). That said, the plaintiffs do not ask the court to enjoin the photo ID requirement for all absentee voters. Instead, th......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Sec'y of State for Ala., No. 18-10151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • April 9, 2021
    ...limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. See Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill , 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1257 (N.D. Ala. 2018) ("While cases of proven in-person voter fraud in Alabama are extremely rare, there are some documented cases of ......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries, Ala. State Conference of the Nat'l Ass'n v. Sec'y of State for State, No. 18-10151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2020
    ...limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. See Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill , 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1257 (N.D. Ala. 2018) ("While cases of proven in-person voter fraud in Alabama are extremely rare, there are some documented cases of ......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Sec'y of State for Ala., No. 18-10151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 1, 2021
    ...denied Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment. Id.; see also Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill ("GBM (Dist. Ct.)"), 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1256 (N.D. Ala. 2018).5 I will start with the panel's conclusion that Plaintiffs’ claims of race discrimination brought under the Fourtee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • People First of Ala. v. Merrill, Civil Action Number 2:20-cv-00619-AKK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • June 15, 2020
    ..., 553 U.S. at 196–97, 128 S.Ct. 1610 ; Common Cause , 554 F.3d at 1353–54 ; see also Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill , 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1277 (N.D. Ala. 2018). That said, the plaintiffs do not ask the court to enjoin the photo ID requirement for all absentee voters. Instead, th......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Sec'y of State for Ala., No. 18-10151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • April 9, 2021
    ...limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. See Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill , 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1257 (N.D. Ala. 2018) ("While cases of proven in-person voter fraud in Alabama are extremely rare, there are some documented cases of ......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries, Ala. State Conference of the Nat'l Ass'n v. Sec'y of State for State, No. 18-10151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2020
    ...limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. See Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill , 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1257 (N.D. Ala. 2018) ("While cases of proven in-person voter fraud in Alabama are extremely rare, there are some documented cases of ......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Sec'y of State for Ala., No. 18-10151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 1, 2021
    ...denied Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment. Id.; see also Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill ("GBM (Dist. Ct.)"), 284 F. Supp. 3d 1253, 1256 (N.D. Ala. 2018).5 I will start with the panel's conclusion that Plaintiffs’ claims of race discrimination brought under the Fourtee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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