Sheila Degan Gilbert, et al.
Alabama Democratic Party, State Democratic Executive Committee of Alabama, et al.
from Montgomery Circuit Court: CV-19-531
Motion to Dismiss Appeal filed by Sheila Degan Gilbert, et
al., on November 18, 2019, having been submitted to this
Court, IT IS ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED and the
appeal is DISMISSED.
Bryan, Sellers, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur.
PARKER, Chief Justice (concurring specially).
concur in dismissing this appeal. The appeal is moot because
the temporary restraining order at issue expired under its
own terms on November 11, 2019. Nevertheless, because it
appears that at least some claims of the plaintiffs remain
pending below, I write to clarify the jurisprudential
framework under which the courts of this State analyze
intra-political-party disputes. I believe the courts have
jurisdiction over such disputes in a technical sense because
nothing in the State constitution or statutes strip the
courts of authority to hear them and because hearing them
would not infringe on executive or legislative authority.
However, as a prudential matter, under Smith v.
McQueen, 232 Ala. 90, 166 So. 788 (1936), Alabama courts
traditionally abstain from hearing these disputes.
case involves a purely intra-political-party dispute. It does
not involve a general or primary election, so the statutes
and cases that govern in those contexts do not apply here.
See, e.g., § 17-16-44, Ala. Code 197 5
(stripping the courts of jurisdiction to hear claims
regarding the legality of elections); Ex parte
Baxley, 496 So.2d 688, 693 (Ala. 1986) (finding a lack
of jurisdiction over primary- election contests) .
Furthermore, the political-question doctrine, which arises
from the separation of powers, has no application here
because political parties are not an arm of another branch of
government. See Magee v. Boyd, 175 So.3d 79, 105
(Ala. 2015) (quoting Japan Whaling Ass'n v. American
Cetacean Soc'y, 478 U.S. 221, 230, 106 S.Ct. 2860,
2866, 92 L.Ed. 166 (1986)) ("'The political question
doctrine excludes from judicial review those controversies
which revolve around policy choices and value determinations
constitutionally committed for resolution to the halls of
Congress or the confines of the Executive Branch.'"
subject of intra-party disputes, Alabama jurisprudence is
sparse but generally consistent. In McQueen, the
petitioners sought a writ of mandamus to require the chair of
a state political-party executive committee to certify them
as candidates for delegates to the national convention. 232
Ala. at 91, 166 So. at 789. The committee had unilaterally
selected others to be the delegates, and the petitioners
claimed that a statute that permitted the committee
to hold primary elections for delegates required the
committee to hold such elections. 232 Ala. at 92, 166 So. at
790. The McQueen Court began its analysis with a
"It is to be observed, in the first instance, that the
subject-matter of this petition concerns a factional
controversy within a political party, and that the courts,
with rare unanimity, express a reluctance to assume
jurisdiction of questions of a purely political nature. The
following from the text of 20 Corpus Juries, 137, is well
supported by the cited authorities: 'Except to the extent
that jurisdiction is conferred by statute or that the subject
has been regulated by statute, the courts have no power to
interfere with the judgment of the constituted authorities of
established political parties in matters involving party
government and discipline, or to determine disputes within a
political party as to the regularity of the election of its
232 Ala. at 92, 166 So. at 789. The Court further observed
that "political parties are not governmental agencies,
but voluntary organizations with the objects 'intimate to
those who compose them.'" 232 Ala. at 92, 166 So. at
790 (quoting Lett v. Dennis, 221 Ala. 432, 434, 129
So. 33, 35 (1930)). Nevertheless, political parties are
"affected with a public interest" and are,
therefore, subject to legislative enactments. Id.
Thus, in determining whether this Court should exercise
jurisdiction in that intra-party dispute, the first inquiry
was: "To what extent is the subject matter of this
petition affected by the provisions of the ... statute?"
Id. The McQueen Court concluded that the
statute in question granted discretion to the committee to
determine how to select delegates to the convention. 232 Ala.
at 92-94, 166 So. at 7 90-91. Because the Court was
"unable to find that th[e] action of the committee
violate[d] any statutory provision," the Court held that
the action was "not subject to [the Court's]
control." 232 Ala. at 94, 166 So. at 791.
the language from Corpus Juries quoted in
McQueen seems to imply that courts have no
jurisdiction over intra-party disputes, this Court has not
generally used jurisdictional language to describe its
declining to decide such disputes. For example, in
McQueen itself, this Court expressed
"reluctance to assume jurisdiction." 232
Ala. at 92, 166 So. at 789 (emphasis added). In other cases,
this Court has said that it "'scrupulously avoid[s]
interfering'" in these disputes, Baxley,
496 So.2d at 692 (quoting Ex parte State ex rel.
Bragg, 240 Ala. 80, 85, 197 So. 32, 36 (1940)), and is
"very reluctant to interfere with party matters,"
Bridges v. McCorvey, 254 Ala. 677, 681, 49 So.2d
546, 549 (1950} . Moreover, our reluctance has been founded
on prudential concerns such as avoiding entanglement in
political matters, see McQueen, 232 Ala. at 92, 166
So. at 790 (quoting 20 C.J. 137) ("'[T]he courts ...
will seek ... to maintain the integrity and independence of
the several departments of the government by leaving
questions as to party policy, the regularity of conventions
the nomination of candidates, and the constitution, powers,
and proceedings of committees, to be determined by the
tribunals of the party. '"), and deference to
political parties' own dispute-resolution mechanisms, see
Bridges, 254 Ala. at 681-82, 49 So.2d at 549
(quoting Moody v. Trimble, 109 Ky. 139, 50 S.W. 504,
505 (1900)) ('"The settlement of [party] questions,
in the nature of things, should be left to party authority
....'"). We have not based our noninterference on
specific constitutional or statutory limits or on other
concrete doctrinal restrictions that typically dictate our
lack of jurisdiction. Thus, our policy against deciding
intra-party disputes is not ultimately jurisdictional but
rather a form of abstention.
abstention is not without exception, however. Since the
decision in McQueen, this Court has decided
intra-party disputes that involved violations of Alabama
statutes. See Bragg, 240 Ala. at 83, 197 So. at 34
(exercising jurisdiction to ensure compliance with statutory
requirements for an election contest); Ex parte May,
253 Ala. 684, 685, 46 So.2d 836, 837 (1950) (recognizing
circuit court's jurisdiction over challenge to election
contest when plaintiff alleged that statement of contest did
not comply with statutory requirements) . Likewise, this
Court has exercised jurisdiction over an intra-party dispute
when a constitutional violation was alleged. See Ray v.
Blair, 257 Ala. 151, 57 So.2d 395 (1952) (exercising
jurisdiction to hold that Democratic Party's delegate
pledge violated 12th Amendment to the United States
Constitution), overruled on other grounds by Ray v.
Blair, 343 U.S. 154, 72 S.Ct. 598, 96 L.Ed. 852,'
supplemented, 343 U.S. 214, 72 S.Ct. 654, 96 L.Ed. 894 (1952)
(holding that delegate pledge did not violate 12th
addition to being supported by the prudential concerns noted
above, McQueen abstention is consistent with Alabama
jurisprudence regarding voluntary associations. At the most
basic level, a political party is merely "an
unincorporated[, ] voluntary association of persons
sponsoring certain ideas of government." 29 C.J.S.
Elections § 149 (2015); see McQueen,
232 Ala. at 92, 166 So. at 790 ("[P]olitical parties are
... voluntary organizations ...."). Other voluntary
associations include labor unions, see Local Union No.
57, Bhd. of Painters, Decorators & Paperhangers of Am. v.
Boyd, 245 Ala. 227, 234, 16 So.2d 705, 711 (1944),
social and religious clubs, see Dixon v. Club, Inc.,
408 So.2d 76, 81 (Ala. 1981), and unincorporated churches,
see Bailey v. Washington, 23 6 Ala. 674, 676, 185
So. 172, 173 (1938). Regarding such associations, our
jurisdiction over internal disputes is well established, yet
we consistently abstain from those disputes.
constitution and bylaws of a voluntary association function
as a binding contract between the members of the association.
See Mackey v. Moss, 278 Ala. 55, 59, 175 So.2d 749,
752 (1965). However, unlike determining ordinary contractual
rights between ...