Councilman Ernest Montgomery is a community leader in Shelby County, Alabama. Mr. Montgomery was also our client in Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder in which the Supreme Court struck down the preclearance mechanism that required states and jurisdictions to preclear voting changes with the federal government beforehand. The reflection below details how Mr. Montgomery lost his seat after Caldera–a city in Shelby County–redrew its district lines and failed to seek federal review of the new plan. Caldera’s African-American community also lost the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
Ernest Montgomery has lived in Calera, a city located within Shelby County, Alabama for more than thirty years. In 2004, he became only the second African American elected to serve on the City Council in Calera’s history. In the next election in 2008, however, Montgomery lost his seat after Calera redrew its district lines and failed to seek federal review of the new plan as required by the Voting Rights Act. Not only did Ernest Montgomery lose his position on City Council, Calera’s African American community lost the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
The unreviewed redistricting plan dramatically altered the makeup of voters in Montgomery’s district, District 2. The district went from having a registered voter population that was 71% African Americans to one less than half that size — just 29.5%. Redrawing the lines without preclearance eliminated Calera’s only majority-Black district and stripped minority voters of an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
It is the unfortunate history of ongoing discrimination and racially polarized voting that necessitated Section 5 – a remedy that, prior to the Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, helped to block and deter the kind of discrimination that continues in places like Shelby County today. Under Section 5, Calera was required to submit proposed voting changes for federal approval before they are enacted to ensure that they were free from discrimination. Because the city did not get the required pre-clearance before instituting its new redistricting plan, the election results that resulted from that plan were invalidated.
Ultimately, the Department of Justice rejected the redistricting plan that significantly diluted the voting power of the city’s African American population and required another election be held. This time, Ernest Montgomery regained his rightful seat, winning the most votes of any City Council candidate in the race. He remains Calera’s sole African American representative today.