Newswire: Alvin Holmes dies at 81; had served decades in Alabama House

Rep. Alvin Holmes

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former state Rep. Alvin Holmes, who had been the longest-serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives before his 2018 defeat, died on November 21, 2020. He was 81.
Holmes, one of the first African Americans elected to the Alabama Legislature after the civil rights era, was for decades a fixture at the Statehouse. His political career included battles over issues ranging from removing Jim Crow language from the state Constitution to taking the Confederate flag off of the Alabama Capitol. With his trademark outspokenness, he had panache for humorous, and sometimes controversial, moments.
Holmes was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, just four years after African Americans — who hadn’t served since Reconstruction — returned to the Legislature.
“I came to the Statehouse out of the civil rights movement. I said I wanted to go up there and make a change,” Holmes said after his defeat in 2018.
Holmes had said the accomplishments he was most proud of included establishing Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday and pushing for the hiring of African Americans for professional positions at the Alabama Legislature.
He was among lawmakers who fought to take the Confederate battle flag off the Alabama Capitol’s dome where it had formerly flown as symbol of Southern defiance to integration. He sponsored a constitutional amendment to remove an interracial marriage ban from the Alabama Constitution and unsuccessfully fought for years to get sexual orientation included in the state hate crime statute.
The short, mustached Holmes had a flair for humor and bluntness at the House microphone, a skill he said he knowingly deployed at times to draw attention to issues.
Once, during a floor debate, Holmes pulled out a wad of cash and said he would give $700 to anyone who showed him Bible verses specifying that marriage is between only a man and a woman. The challenge prompted a flood of calls into the statehouse switchboard.
“What’s wrong with the beer we got? I mean the beer we got drinks pretty good don’t it.” he also once asked during a debate on a bill, promoted by beer enthusiasts, to allow the sale of higher alcohol content brews.
Rep. Christopher England, who also serves as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter.
“He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. …. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed.”

Governor Kay Ivey signs jury override bill

In one of her first official acts as Governor, Kay Ivey, on Tuesday, April 11, signed into law a bill that says juries, not judges, have the final say on whether to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases.
Ivey signed the bill, which had been passed by the Alabama House of Representatives on April 4, by a vote of 78-19. The same bill had previously passed the Alabama Senate by a vote of 30- 1.
Alabama was the only state left in the nation had these judicial override provisions.
Senator Hank Sanders of Selma had sponsored the bill in the Senate for several years along with a bill requiring a moratorium of the death penalty until Alabama studies and reviews the equity of the death penalty.
Sanders said, “Senator Dick Brewbaker, a Republican from Montgomery asked me if he could sponsor the jury override bill in this session and I agreed because my interest was to end this practice.”
According to the Equal Justice Initiative. Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence. Sanders said that a quarter of the persons presently on death row are there because the judge overrode the jury’s decision on their case.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, sponsored a bill to end judicial override in the House. On the House floor, England substituted Brewbaker’s bill for his, and it won final passage. This bill was pending the Governor’s signature when Robert Bentley resigned and Kay Ivey moved up from Lieutenant Governor to the Governor’s position.
“Having judicial override almost undermines the constitutional right to trial by a jury of your peers,” England said.  England’s bill, as introduced, would also have required the consent of all 12 jurors to give a death sentence. Current law requires at least 10 jurors. Brewbaker’s bill left the threshold to impose the death penalty at 10 jurors.
Ebony Howard, associate legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued a statement applauding the bill’s passage.
“Alabama should do everything it can to ensure that an innocent person is never executed,” Howard said. “The bipartisan effort to pass a bill that would keep a judge from overriding a jury’s vote in capital cases is a step in the right direction. As of today, Alabama is one step closer to joining every other state in our nation in prohibiting judicial override in the sentencing phase of death penalty cases.”
Alabama Arise, a statewide advocacy group on social justice issues and ending poverty in Alabama, also supported passage of the bill as one of its legislative priorities for this session.