Voters Accuse Georgia of Racial Gerrymandering

The U.S. Supreme Court. (AP file photo/Jon Elswick)

ATLANTA (CN) — As the Supreme Court heard arguments last week on a gerrymandering case from Wisconsin that has the potential to reform U.S. politics nationwide, Georgia voters sued their state in federal court, claiming their Legislature gerrymandered two state House districts, disenfranchising African-Americans so as to re-elect Republicans.

Jamal Brooks and 10 other voters sued Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, the same day. It is considered one of the most important that the Supreme Court will face this term.

In its essence, it boils down to the fact that after Republicans seized control of both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature and the governor’s office in 2010, it gerrymandered the state so effectively that Democrats have never won more than 39 of the 99 legislative seats, even when they won a majority of votes cast statewide.

Aside from fundamental fairness, and the one-man-one vote principle, the issue is whether such overt gerrymandering is, or should be, illegal, when it is done for purely partisan reasons, rather than to disenfranchise sometimes-protected groups, such as racial minorities.

The Georgia case is simpler, based on accusations of traditional gerrymandering, particularly as practiced in the Deep South.

“Through mid-cycle redistricting, the General Assembly has sought to dilute growing African-American voting strength, targeting areas where African- American candidates were poised to attain seats in the Georgia House of Representatives,” the complaint states. “And it has succeeded.”

Georgia House Bill 566, enacted in 2015, particularly targeted Districts 105 and 111 where Republican incumbents Joyce Chandler and Brian Strickland faced a tough reelection. Both districts are in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan area.

Nine of the 13 African-American senators in the General Assembly voted against HB 566.

Both Chandler and Strickland were re-elected in 2016.

The plaintiffs call it an “assault on voting rights” that successfully suppressed “the ability of African Americans to participate equally in the electoral process in Georgia in a stark, measurable way: but for the illegal actions of the General Assembly, there would likely be at least three additional African-American representatives currently serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.”

The third seat would have come, the plaintiffs say, because the legal gerrymander effected by HB 566 “circumvented the creation of at least one additional majority-minority district that would provide African-American voters the ability to elect their candidates of choice.”

They claim the redistricting violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th and 15th Amendments.

They ask that a three-judge court be convened to hear the case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a), that the court enjoin enforcement of HB 566, order the adoption of at least one more majority-minority district in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and in injunction ordering Georgia to obtain pre-clearance from the court or the U.S. attorney general, for any statewide redistricting for the next 10 years, as required by the Voting Rights Act.

They are represented by Quinton Washington with Bell & Washington in Atlanta, and by attorneys with Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C. and Seattle.

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