Judges Toss NAACP’s Claims of Gerrymandering in Georgia

ATLANTA (CN) – A three-member panel of federal judges dismissed allegations of voting-rights violations brought by the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, finding the group did not prove that a state law allowing for the redistricting of two key districts discriminates against minority voters.

Writing for the panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly B. Martin disagreed last week with the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP’s argument that House Bill 566 reorganized state House Districts 105 and 111 with the intent to dilute minority voting strength and disadvantage African-American and other minority voters compared to white voters. Districts 105 and 111 are both located in the metropolitan Atlanta area.

The three-judge panel ruled that although the NAACP sufficiently alleged the discriminatory intent of the law in its complaint, it failed to demonstrate that the law had a discriminatory effect.

To prove the law’s discriminatory effect, the NAACP had to show that the group of minorities is large enough to constitute a cohesive majority within the districts.

The judges ruled that it failed to do so.

“The plaintiffs do not allege any facts to support the notion that all non-white groups, including African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian-American, and any other ethnic minority’s voters, are politically cohesive in Districts 105 and 111,” Martin wrote in the Aug. 25 opinion.

The panel also rejected the NAACP’s claim that HB 566 “intentionally and surgically remove[d] Democratic voters” from the districts “for the purpose of making them noncompetitive and ensuring electoral victory for their Republican incumbents.”

“[The plaintiffs] have given us no metric by which we can measure discriminatory effect… They have supplied the court with no explanation or statistical analysis to support their partisan gerrymandering claim or show that it is judicially manageable,” Martin wrote.

The NAACP originally filed the lawsuit for declaratory and injunctive relief in Atlanta federal court in April, alleging that proponents of HB 566 redrew Districts 105 and 11 to prevent black voters from having “an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of choice” in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

The complaint stated that HB 566 violated the voting rights of minorities by “removing precincts and census blocks that are predominantly populated by minority voters, and inserting precincts and census blocks that are predominantly populated by white voters.”

The NAACP claimed that the redistricting was done specifically to protect white Republican incumbents Joyce Chandler and Bryan Strickland, both of whom narrowly won their elections in 2016 after the law took effect.

Chandler defeated Donna McLeod, a black Democrat, by just 222 votes to win District 105. Strickland defeated Darryl Payton, also a black Democrat, by 964 votes to win District 111. The NAACP argued that without the redistricting, the two incumbents may have lost their elections.

Julie Houk, senior special counsel of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is the NAACP’s partner in filing civil rights litigation, said in a statement that they are “disappointed with the Court’s decision, but are not entirely surprised by it.”

“Since the Supreme Court has not yet clearly articulated the criteria for determining when partisan considerations in drawing district lines rise to the level of a Constitutional violation, there has been some uncertainty in the lower courts about what proof is necessary to strike down a districting plan based upon a partisan gerrymander claim,” Houk said. “We hope that the Supreme Court will provide more clarity about the applicable criteria when it decides the Gill v. Whitford case this term.”

She added, “We will continue to press forward with our racial gerrymander claim, an issue that has become pervasive in mid-decade redistricting to suppress the rights of minority voters. In Georgia, we believe there is a clear example of the Legislature improperly using racial considerations to draw the House District 105 and 111 lines to prevent African American voters from electing candidates of their choice. Our most immediate concern is to try the racial gerrymander claim as soon as possible so that we can obtain remedial relief ahead of the 2018 election cycle.”

A representative for Georgia Secretary of State Bryan Kemp did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on the ruling.

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