Academic journal article Faulkner Law Review

Fred Gray: Life, Legacy, Lessons

Academic journal article Faulkner Law Review

Fred Gray: Life, Legacy, Lessons

Article excerpt


According to a recent report, five million voters could find it more difficult to cast a ballot in 2012. (1) During the 2011 legislative session, legislatures across the country passed laws that changed the requirements for voting and registration. (2) In many states, a government issued photo ID is now necessary where once a utility or electric bill would suffice. (3) Additionally, many states have reduced the number of days for early voting, which could adversely affect working class and minority persons who utilized that option in the previous presidential election. (4) The recently enacted voter requirements can potentially serve as barriers to participation in the franchise.

Although not as conspicuous as Bull Connor (5) on the steps of a Birmingham, Alabama, courthouse daring Black citizens to attempt to register to vote, these new voting barriers are just as effective. (6) Voter ID laws, restrictions on third party registration, felon disenfranchisement, and other methods limiting access to the ballot could sway an election and certainly discourage millions from voting. (7)

While access to the ballot is currently at issue, the redistricting season offers additional cause for concern for minority voters. League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, (8) Perry v. Perez, (9) Bartlett v. Strickland, (10) Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder, (11) and Shelby County v. Holder (12) all challenge the Voting Rights Act and its ability to ensure that minority voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the election process. Do the states' rights claims from Alabama and Texas differ from the states' rights claims of the 1950s and 1960s? (13) Although the claims may differ in some respects, an attempt to escape federal supervision remains the same. (14)

Where might these contemporary events rank in the ability for citizens to be heard? Are these essentially hurdles for individual voters, or are they opportunities for creative lawyers to develop strategic approaches to eliminating obstacles to the franchise? These new trials bask in the shadow of a great civil rights hero, Attorney Fred Gray, whose contributions to voting rights and election law were quite courageous and provide a longstanding legacy and roadmap for success in this new millennium.

Attorney Gray is a native of Montgomery, Alabama, and an accomplished civil rights attorney. At the age of twenty-four he represented Mrs. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Improvement Association in landmark litigation (15) that began to dismantle segregationist laws, not just in Alabama, but across the segregated South. (16) With somewhat of an historical view, this law review article will consider the life, the legacy, and the lessons that Attorney Fred Gray provides to attorneys. Can attorneys use the law to shape outcomes in the ability to be heard? Is there legal ground available to expand the ability to be heard? Can attorneys use the Voting Rights Act, and other tools that were used and developed so masterfully in the hands of Attorney Gray, to quash attempts to disenfranchise minorities today? This is certainly a very tall order, but well worth the attempt to move forward in the area of racial equality.

Part I of this article will discuss Attorney Gray's life and two prominent civil rights cases, Gomillion v. Lightfoot (17) and Williams v. Wallace. (18) These two cases were landmarks that forced the courts to address issues of malapportionment and paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The second part of this article will review the legacy of Attorney Gray under the purview of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Finally, the article will discuss the lessons that we can learn from the efforts of Attorney Gray and identify contemporary challenges and mechanisms, such as efforts to rollback voter registration access and opportunities to participate in the franchise. …

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