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Lawyer Who Filed Shelby County v. Holder Lawsuit Has Family Ties to Dixiecrats And Bull Connor

Posted on the 03 July 2013 by Rogershuler @RogerShuler

Lawyer Who Filed Shelby County v. Holder Lawsuit Has Family Ties to Dixiecrats And Bull Connor

Bull Connor's fire hoses

The Alabama lawyer who filed the original complaint in a case that last week overturned a key section of the Voting Rights Act has family ties to the Dixiecrat movement that opposed racial integration in the mid 1900s. The lawyer also has roundabout ties to notorious Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, who is known for ordering fire hoses and police dogs turned on black demonstrators in 1963.

Frank C. "Butch" Ellis has been a municipal lawyer in central Alabama for more than 40 years, and in 2010, he joined with Bert Rein of Washington, D.C., to launch Shelby County v. Holder. The case concluded last week with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, that found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. (Key documents from throughout the case can be found here, at the Web site for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.)

Roberts' opinion outraged many observers on the left, who consider the Voting Rights Act to be the primary legacy of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Some went so far as to suggest Roberts and his supporters in a 5-4 ruling engaged in criminal acts when overturning Section 4.

Here is how public-interest litigator Rob Hager expressed his contempt for "The Roberts 5" at the

Yet another ruling from the legislative workshop of the Roberts 5, has now surgically overturned the landmark Voting Rights Act that redeemed the national disgrace of the criminally depraved Jim Crow era. Their surgical strike in Shelby County effectively overturns the most significant legal outcome of the Civil War; violates separation of powers; invents a new rule of “state equality” for applying federal legislation that nowhere remotely suggested in the Constitution, that was rejected by the leading precedent, and is inherently preposterous; reverses numerous precedents; decides the case of parties that were not in court instead of focusing on the case before it -- as the Constitution, Article III, requires; and rejects the very idea of applying a known objective rule to adduced facts as defines the judicial process.

Hager makes a number of powerful arguments. But for now, we will focus on the man who gave birth to Shelby County v. Holder.

Butch Ellis has contended in numerous published reports that Shelby County is a changed place, that black voter turnout is high and the county is solidly integrated. But a look at Ellis' personal history should raise eyebrows. That's because it has roots in an ugly effort to support segregation and throttle civil rights for black Americans.

Lawyer Who Filed Shelby County v. Holder Lawsuit Has Family Ties to Dixiecrats And Bull Connor

Frank "Butch" Ellis

In a February 2013 piece at the Washington Spectator ("The Supreme Court v. Black Voters in Alabama"), journalist Lou Dubose spotlighted Ernest Montgomery, a black city councilman from Calera, Alabama, who retained his spot on the council only because of Justice Department intervention in 2009, via the Voting Rights Act. 

Roughly one year later, Butch Ellis filed the federal lawsuit that became Shelby County v. Holder. And Montgomery tells Dubose that Ellis' son, County Commissioner Corley Ellis, never told him the lawsuit was coming. Writes Dubose:

In 2010, Shelby County filed suit in federal court, describing Section 5 as a federal intrusion into state issues. It is this lawsuit that will be heard by the Supreme Court at the end of this month. Montgomery learned about the County Commission’s decision to sue the Justice Department when he read it in the Birmingham News. 
“As well as I know [County Commissioner] Corley Ellis—we have a friendship, not a close friendship but a friendship—I never got a heads up,” Montgomery said.

Maybe that has something to do with the Ellis family's background. Dubose explains:

Corley Ellis is the Shelby County Commissioner who neglected to inform Ernest Montgomery that the county had filed suit against the Justice Department. The Shelby County lawyer who filed the suit is Corley Ellis’s father, Butch Ellis. Butch Ellis’s father was Handy Ellis, a former lieutenant governor and the chairman of the Alabama delegation at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. 
With Birmingham Commissioner of Safety Bull Connor, Ellis led the Dixiecrat walkout of the convention after declaring that Alabama delegates were instructed “never to cast their vote for any candidate associated with a civil rights program such as adopted by this convention.”

Bottom line? The lawyer who filed Shelby County v. Holder is the son of a Dixiecrat, the party that nominated Strom Thurmond for president at its 1948 convention--held at Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium. And the lawyer's father was closely aligned with Bull Connor, the public official who ordered fire hoses turned on peaceful black demonstrators in 1963.

Perhaps we all should pay attention to the following words from Lou Dubose:

Faulkner’s—“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”—has been quoted so many times that it has become an exhausted cliché. 
Except in places where the New South seems incapable of escaping the Old South. 
In such places, those lines are as fresh as this morning’s news.

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