Sweeping attempts to limit Americans’ access to the ballot box through voter suppression laws and recent legal challenges to the Voting Rights Act will be the focus of Auburn University at Montgomery’s 2023 Constitution Day celebration.
“We’re focusing on voting rights for this year’s Constitution Day event because it’s a very salient civil rights issue as several states have passed legislation making it more difficult to exercise the right to vote after the last contested presidential election in 2020,” said Pia Knigge, assistant professor of political science and the event’s organizer.
AUM’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration will celebrate the 236th anniversary of the nation’s founding document with the panel discussion “Voting Rights in Alabama & Beyond” on Thursday, Sept. 21, from 6-7:30 p.m. in Goodwyn Hall 110. Panelists will include:
- David Hughes, associate professor of political science at AUM and constitutional law and Southern politics scholar
- Bryan Fair, Thomas E. Skinner Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law
- Jess Unger, senior staff attorney for voting rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and civil rights expert
“Together, the three panelists complement each other nicely to discuss voting rights, particularly in Alabama,” Knigge said. “We’re especially pleased to welcome to campus Bryan Fair and Jess Unger, who currently serves as the senior staff attorney on voting rights at the SPLC, a nonprofit that was a co-plaintiff in the recent Alabama voting rights case Allen v. Milligan.”
Allen v. Milligan will be among top voting rights cases discussed by the panel due to its direct impact on Black voters in Alabama and ongoing legal challenges. The case arose after Alabama’s governor signed into law a new congressional map in 2021 with redrawn boundaries for congressional districts, showing just one majority Black congressional district out of seven in the state. Opponents of the new map have argued that it violates a section of the Voting Rights Acts by limiting the voting power of Blacks.
While Alabama has been involved in several recent and pending voting rights cases, Allen v. Milligan (2023) has direct implications for Montgomery, Knigge said.
“Allen v. Milligan involves the three congressional districts that run through Montgomery with only one district being a so-called majority-minority district (Rep. Terri Sewell’s district),” she said. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that given the size of the African American population in Alabama and the fact that politics in Alabama is racially polarized, Black voters in Alabama are underrepresented under the current district lines.”
In early September, a three-judge-federal court ruled that the new map the Alabama Legislature drew in response to the Allen v. Milligan case did not correct a likely Voting Rights Act violation. It appointed a special master and cartographer to work on a new map. Alabama’s attorney general has appealed this order to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“By discussing this case and other voting rights cases, we hope the audience gains a better understanding of the importance of protecting voting rights and the current issues surrounding voting rights in Alabama,” Knigge said.
Allen v. Milligan also further demonstrates the importance of Americans going to the ballot box to vote, Knigge added.
“We want our students, faculty, staff, and the greater Montgomery community to leave this event inspired and motivated to vote because voting matters in a representative democracy,” she said. “We also want to see them engaged in these types of issues by, for example, reaching out to elected officials who make redistricting decisions and who legislate voting rights at large.”
Constitution Day (Sept. 17) is a federal observance commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution and recognizing those who have become U.S. citizens.
In honor of the federal holiday, AUM and all educational institutions receiving federal funding are required to hold an educational program pertaining to the U.S. Constitution.
For more information about AUM’s Constitution Day event, visit https://www.aum.edu/events-archive/constitution-day-event/.