Alabama Newspapers Call for Reform of Judge Override


Following the release of EJI’s new report on judge override in Alabama, the state’s major newspapers are calling for reform of the override law.

The Mobile Press-Register yesterday described judge override in Alabama as “unfair to juries, defendants and judges alike,” and called on the appellate courts or the Legislature to limit the practice. The paper noted that rulings seeking to limit override are not being enforced, leaving in place a system that robs juries of their decision-making role and unfairly pressures elected judges to be “tough on crime.”

Birmingham News editorial page editor Bob Blalock also pointed to the fact that trial judges “must run in partisan races where there is political pressure to be tough on crime. The Alabama Supreme Court could do something, but justices, too, face election and often tout their tough-on-crime bona fides.”

Noting the report’s conclusion that judge override is a primary reason why Alabama has the highest per-capita death sentencing rate and execution rate in the country — higher, even, than Texas — Blalock noted the high rate of mistakes in override cases and suggested Alabama fails to ensure that every death sentence is rationally and fairly imposed.

The Huntsville Times editorial board focused on EJI’s finding that “judges are more likely to order a death sentence when the victim is white.” Noting that Alabama is the only state where judges elected in partisan races are given broad discretion to override, the paper called on lawmakers and judges to “reconsider this part of the state’s death penalty law,” because “Justice demands fairness.”

Newspapers across the state have long called for reform of Alabama’s override law, citing concerns about fairness, the influence of politics, and respect for jury decisions.