Greene and Macon Counties sue, Class Action voters lawsuit filed on bingo amendments

 

Civil Rights Attorney Jim Blacksher filed a class action suit on behalf of voters of Greene and Macon counties against Gov. Bob Riley and Illegal GamblingTask Force leader John Tyson in the  United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Western Division on Thursday, July 28, 2010. This suit was based on Riley and Tyson’s raids and subseqent closing and seizure of bingo machines at Greenetrack and the threat of the same at VictoryLand in Macon County.

Blacksher issued the following statement. “Employees of GreeneTrack and Victoryland, Greene County and Macon County, and other citizens of the two counties  filed a class action suit in federal court against Governor Bob Riley and his Task Force Commander John Tyson. The complaint alleges that the Governor has violated the Voting Rights Act by nullifying the votes of the electorates in Greene and Macon Counties who approved constitutional amendments in 2003 authorizing electronic bingo operations in their counties.

“The recent actions of the Governor and his Task Force in Greene and Macon County are reminiscent of the systematic deprivation of the voting rights of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s and are exactly the types of injustice that the Voting Rights Act was designed to address. 

“Without a single dissenting vote, the Legislature of Alabama approved the constitutional amendments and authorized the people of Greene and Macon County to vote on electronic bingo and to allow the local sheriff to regulate it. The referendum elections were precleared by the United States Justice Department and the citizens of Greene and Macon County overwhelmingly voted yes. For six years, the Greene and Macon County sheriffs regulated bingo in accordance with the power vested in them by those constitutional amendments.

“For six years, Governor Riley did not bring a single job to Greene or Macon County.

It was only after bingo brought employment, prosperity, and stability to these poor, predominantly black counties that Riley decided he had to put an end to it.

 “The Constitution of Alabama says that electronic bingo is legal in Greene and Macon County. The Constitution of Alabama says that the sheriffs of those counties–not the governor–shall regulate bingo. And, the Constitution of Alabama proclaims that we are a nation of laws and not of men. No single man should be able to veto the constitutional amendments enacted by the people of a county. No single man should be able to deprive the citizens of this state of their right to vote.

“Today, with the filing of this lawsuit, the citizens of Greene and Macon County say to Governor Riley and John Tyson: “We will no longer stand by while you deprive us of our votes, trample our rights, and ignore our laws. We are not afraid today. Our voices will be heard. Our votes will be counted. And we will continue to fight until the ‘bright day of justice emerges’. We shall overcome.”

One of the points made in the  brief that was submitted with the suit was that in the General Election of  November 8, 1994,  Amendment 555 establishes procedures for legislative enactment of proposed constitutional amendments applicable to only one county. This amendment was passed and ratified on January 6, 1995. This amendment also stipulates that any proposed local amendment must have a favorable vote of a majority of the qualified voters of the affected county. This amendment was precleared by the U. S. Justice Department, a step which Riley and Tyson failed to take in their actions against bingo in  Macon and Greene Counties.

Since 1980, voters in 16 Alabama counties have approved constitutional amendments which authorize the operation of bingo within their jurisdictions. The preclearance letter fpr this amendment expressly based the decision to preclear on the removal of an earlier provision that would have given the Governor and his colleagues on the Local  Constitutaional Amendment Committee  the power to veto any proposed local amendent the Legislature passes. Amendment 555 limits the power of the said Commission to “deciding whether the amendnent afects more than one county or more than one political subdivision in one or more counties.

In 2003, the citizens of both Greene and Macon Counties voted in the November, 2003 General Election to pass local Constitutional Amendments which not only stipulated that electronic bingo would be legal within each county but also each  county’s amendment stipulated that the duly elected Sheriff of the County was responsible for establishing and regulating bingo in that county.

The brief charges John Tyson with conducting “non-judicial, warerntless police raids in Macon and Greene Counties.” These are the only two counties where such raids were executed.

When their police raids were challenged in state court proceedings, Riley and Tyson said their authority came from the certain sections of  1901 Constitution of Alabama  and the Code of Ålabama, all of which were superceded by Greene’s Amendment 743 and Macon’s Amendment 744, both of which are commonly called Bingo Amendments.

Despite that negation, the Alabama Supreme  Court ruled that not only did Riley and Tyson entitled to exercise the law enforcement they claimed, but also prohibited the circuit courts of Alabama from interfering with police raids carried out by defendants. This efectively nullifiedd the votes cast by  a majority of voters in both counties,

The brief also claims that defendants Riley and Tyson, by shutting down bingo operations in both counties have caused and are continuing to cause grievous and irreparable harm to the citizes of these counties.

It also brings to light Riley’s failure to pre-clear any of his actions despite they negated the vote of majority of the citizens in two predominately Black counties.

This claim led to count three of the brief – Puposeful Discrimination which focuses of the state of Alabama’s long history of using the state constitution and the power of central state government to deny African Americans in Black Belt counties such as Greene and Macon the abiilty to govern themselves and to make and enforce laws of their choice.

Anti Klan Act Invoked

The use of over 100 Alabama State Troopers to bypass local authorities and to conduct armed raids in both counties led to the charge of violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act.

This act  became law following Governor George Wallace using 108 armed state troopers in his battle to prevent integration of Tuskegee High School. The troopers were used to prevent students from entering school on the opening day of school on September 2, 1963.

The Ku Klux Klan Act makes it unlawful for two or more persons in any state or territory “to conspire or goin in disguise on the highhway or on the premises of another for the purpose of depriving either directly or indirectly any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws.”

On the day Tyson’s Task Force raided GreeneTrack, troopers met employees at the gates and refused them entry to their place of employments; met customers in the same way and refused them entry.

A favorable verdict by the court would lead to the return of the bingo machines and the lifting of the prohibition of electronic bingo at duly licensed and regulated outlets in Greene and Macon counties.

This is just one site where state troopers parked their cars during the June

 

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