Lawyers’ Committee Files Major Lawsuit Against Gwinnett County, Georgia Alleging Voting Rights Act Violations

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with the Washington, D.C. office of Crowell and Moring LLP and Atlanta-based attorney Brian J. Sutherland, Esq. of Buckley Beal, LLP, acting as pro bono counsel, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP (GA NAACP), Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and seven Gwinnett County, Georgia-registered voters, alleging that the district boundaries for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the Gwinnett County Board of Education violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that the current district maps for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of minority voters. The suit alleges that these maps, coupled with a pattern of racially polarized voting, have long deprived African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Together, African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters comprise approximately 43 percent of the voting age population of Gwinnett County.

“Remarkably, Gwinnett County, Georgia is the most racially diverse county in the southeastern United States, yet no minority candidate has ever won election to the County Board of Commissioners or Board of Education,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “This case is about political power and the exclusion of racial minorities from key elected positions in the county. This exclusion is directly attributable to the discriminatory configuration of district maps and racially polarized voting, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Through this lawsuit we seek to ensure that Gwinnett County government reflects the racial diversity of the community that it serves.”

“The decisions of these boards impact the day-to-day lives of Gwinnett County residents in a myriad of ways, yet because of the packing and splitting of minority voters in the current district plans, minority candidates have been repeatedly defeated in Gwinnett County elections,” said Jerry Gonzalez, GALEO executive director. “District lines must be fairly drawn for minority communities to elect the representatives of their choice, to engage meaningfully with decision makers, and to make sure that their needs are addressed.”

The current Board of Education district map assigns approximately 74.4 percent of the African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters to District 5 and splits the balance of the minority population across the other four districts where African Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans do not constitute a majority of the population. The complaint alleges that the Board of Education districts should be re-drawn to include a second majority-minority district so that minority voters have a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Gwinnett County Board of Education.

Similarly, the current Board of Commissioners’ districting plan unnecessarily divides African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters among four single-member districts, preventing them from combining to form a majority in any district. The complaint alleges that two majority-minority Board of Commissioners districts should be drawn to give African-American, Latino and Asian-American the ability to elect candidates of their choice.

“This is a part of our ongoing post-Shelby election administration monitoring across Georgia,” said Francys Johnson, Statesboro civil rights attorney and Georgia NAACP state president. “This case is illustrious of the fact that freedom is a constant struggle. In Georgia’s rural town and counties to large cities, there has been a steady chipping away of the gains achieved under the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act and the redistricting process has been a major tool of retrogression. The NAACP will mortgage every asset we have to defend the unfettered access to the ballot. It was paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors – it’s sacred.”

To read the full complaint, please click here.

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