Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law files lawsuit challenging Georgia’s unlawful racial gerrymander
Suit claims State redrew lines for GA House of Reps with a racially discriminatory purpose
Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Recently (Monday, April 24, 2017) the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed suit against the State of Georgia and its Secretary of State to remedy an unlawful racial gerrymander. The suit, filed in federal court in Atlanta, claims that the redrawing of lines for Georgia House of Representatives Districts 105 and 111, in 2015, was done with a racially discriminatory purpose to favor the election of White incumbents. The complaint alleges violations of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Mid-decade redistricting has become another tactic used by those who seek to suppress the rights of minority voters in the face of racial demographic change,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Lawmakers in Georgia explicitly used race to reconfigure district boundaries to guarantee the re-election of white incumbents. This kind of racial gerrymandering is not only unlawful, but illustrative of the ugly racial discrimination that infects the political process in Georgia today.”
“The history of the struggle to disenfranchised people in the nation demonstrates that power concedes nothing without a demand. This litigation represents our demand that the ‘we’ in ‘We the People’ include all people,” said Francys Johnson, Statesboro Civil Rights Attorney, and Georgia NAACP President. “In the fight to secure the right to vote and elect the candidates of our choice, the NAACP will mortgage every asset we have. These rights are sacred; hallowed no less by the blood, sweat, and tears of those who came before us.”
“The people of Georgia deserve an electoral system that is fair and free of decisions based on racial gerrymandering and partisan gamesmanship,” said Jennifer Dempsey, Partner, Bryan Cave, LLP. “We hope this lawsuit will advance that cause.”
“As the authors of the Voting Rights Act knew, the right to vote is one of the most important rights of the citizens of this country,” said Gregory Phillips, Partner, Munger Tolles & Olson, LLP. “This lawsuit is brought in order to ensure that all citizens of the State of Georgia, irrespective of color or party, will be able to exercise that right freely and fairly.”
The Georgia House of Representatives is composed of 180 members, each of whom is elected from a single-member district. Traditionally, states adopt a new redistricting plan every ten years, after the decennial Census, so as to comply with the Constitution’s “one person, one vote” requirement. The Georgia legislature, however, has repeatedly sought to amend its post-2010 redistricting plan for its House of Representatives, even though there is no legitimate reason to do so. It most recently did so in 2015, when it passed House Bill 566 (“H.B. 566”) in ways that departed from normal procedures. For example, African American legislators serving on reapportionment committees were excluded from the process of determining the changes.
Most important, H.B. 566 used race as the predominant factor to allocate African American and other minority voters into and out of House Districts 105 and 111, so as to reduce the ability of African American and other voters to elect candidates of their choice. These changes were made against the back-drop of a growing African American population in those two districts and recent elections that saw White Republican candidates just narrowly defeating Black Democratic candidates.
The Complaint alleges that the passage of H.B. 566, in the context of the historical discrimination against African Americans in Georgia and racially polarized voting, was intended, at least in part, to reduce the number of minority voters and increase the number of White voters to reduce minority voting strength in Districts 105 and 111, and was a racial gerrymander in violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. In addition, the Complaint alleges that the redistricting plan is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander as it creates political classifications without any legitimate legislative objective.
Plaintiffs in the suit include Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and several individuals who live in the contested Districts. Working with the Lawyers’ Committee as pro bono counsel are the law firms of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and Bryan Cave. The suit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.