At the end of April, the Georgia NAACP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights 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 – an alleged violation 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. Such conduct is discriminatory and 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 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 10 years, after the decennial
Census, so as to comply with the Constitution’s “one person, one vote” requirement, according to the 100-year-old state organization. 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 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 his lawsuit will advance that cause.”
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.