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.
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 Complaint alleged 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.
The panel disagreed 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 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,” one judge 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.
Representatives for the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and Georgia Secretary of State