Suit Claims State Redrew Lines for GA House of Reps with a Racially Discriminatory Purpose
Yesterday, Monday, April 24, 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 reelection 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 backdrop 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.
About The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The Lawyers’ Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.
For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit http://www.lawyerscommittee.org.
About Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
For more than 50 years, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP has been a full-service law firm known for trying bet-the-company cases and negotiating deals that shape our corporate landscape. Our lawyers represent clients in a broad range of complex and high-profile matters in the areas of corporate, litigation, real estate and financial restructuring. Munger Tolles has been consistently ranked on The American Lawyer’s A-List since its inception in 2004, including four years in the top spot. Munger Tolles recently was named to the National Law Journal’s Pro Bono Hot List and has done extensive work on voting rights issues. For more information, please visit www.mto.com.
About Brian Cave LLP
Bryan Cave is a global law firm with more than 900 highly skilled lawyers practicing in 27 offices in North America, Europe and Asia, including Atlanta, Georgia. The firm is routinely ranked by Thomson Reuters in the top 10 for number of M&A deals completed in the US and also recognized for its litigation capabilities in a broad range of complex disputes. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law recently awarded Bryan Cave the Robert F. Mullen Pro Bono Award for exceptional pro bono legal service. For more information about Bryan Cave, please visit bryancave.com.