State of Alabama

Alabama Newbern Mayoral Selection Method Challenge

Braxton v. Stokes

Lawsuit filed on behalf of former mayoral candidate Patrick Braxton and five Black voters against Newbern, Alabama’s mayor, Haywood Stokes, and members of the Newbern Town Council. The plaintiffs challenge the town’s policy of appointing Newbern’s mayor without holding elections in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and state law. 

Newbern, a small majority-Black town, has not held an election for mayor in the almost six decades since the VRA became law in 1965. In the past, Newburn has selected its mayors by a “hand me down” system where the current mayor appoints the next mayor. In July 2020, Braxton became the only person to declare his candidacy for mayor of Newbern. Under Alabama law, as an unopposed candidate, Braxton automatically assumed office becoming the first Black mayor in Newbern.  Braxton —who was informed that he could appoint town council members because no one filed to run for town council — selected five Black Newbern residents, the other plaintiffs in this lawsuit, to serve as town councilmembers. 

After Braxton assumed office, the town’s white leaders decided to hold a special election on Oct. 6, 2020 without notifying any of the town’s residents. This special election resulted in an majority-white town council and a white mayor. Together, they worked to prevent Braxton and five Black residents from holding office. They changed the locks to the town hall, removed town documents and denied Braxton access to the town’s mailbox and bank account. 

The plaintiffs argue that Stokes and the town council engaged in intentional racial discrimination by refusing to let Black residents participate in local elections or hold local office, violating the 14th Amendment. They also argue that Stokes and the town council participated in a conspiracy to deny Braxton and his town council their constitutional rights by holding an illegal secret special election. Lastly, they argue these actions and Newbern’s practice of generally refusing to hold mayoral elections violates Section 2 of the VRA because they prevent Black residents from participating in the electoral process.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare Braxton as the legal and rightful mayor of Newbern, prevent Stokes and his town council from further blocking Braxton from taking office. They also ask that the court either declare the five other plaintiffs as legal and rightful town councilmembers or require Newbern to have an open and public special election to elect members of the town council.

Case Documents (STATE Court)

Case Documents (FEderal Court)

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