Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Secures Important Voting Rights Victory in Rural Georgia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 9, 2016
Agreement in Federal Lawsuit Will Provide African American Voters in Emanuel County, Georgia Equal Opportunity to Elect Candidates of Choice
WASHINGTON, D.C. –The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), the law firm of Carlton Fields, Georgia NAACP and attorney Jerry Wilson announced a settlement agreement in the case, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. Emanuel County Board of Commissioners. Under the agreement, the electoral map for Emanuel County, Georgia, will be re-drawn to establish two majority-African American school board districts. Through the creation of at least two “majority minority” districts, African American residents of Emanuel County will be afforded the opportunity to elect school board candidates of choice.
The settlement resolves a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in February 2016, alleging that the County’s current electoral map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) by diluting the voting power of African Americans. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the Georgia NAACP, the state’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, and two Emanuel County voters.
“Democracy extends well beyond the doors of the White House,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Local government provides communities a vehicle to impact issues that concern their day-to-day lives. Today’s victory helps ensure that African American voters in Emanuel County, Georgia will be provided a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the local school board. We will continue to use the Voting Rights Act as a tool to combat voting discrimination and to achieve fairer and more democratic outcomes across our country.”
African Americans in Emanuel County continue to bear the effects of a long history of discrimination, which hinders their ability to participate effectively in the political process and has resulted in African American residents’ having a lower socioeconomic status and lagging behind white residents in a wide range of areas, including employment, income, education, and access to health care. Furthermore, the school board has overwhelmingly hired white applicants, despite the availability of qualified African American candidates. As a result, even though African American students make up nearly half of the student population in the county’s schools, the faculty and staff in the county’s schools contain a much smaller percentage of African Americans.
Since redistricting must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly, the settlement agreement requires the school board to pass a resolution and work with the local delegation to the Assembly to ensure that lawmakers approve a map with two majority-African American districts.
“This settlement represents progress in making real the promises of America’s democracy even in very rural places like Emanuel County, Georgia,” said Francys Johnson, Statesboro attorney and Georgia NAACP president. African Americans make up one-third of Emanuel County’s voting age population, and nearly half of its students. Yet, there has never been more than one African American elected to the seven-person School Board at any one time. Under the current district map for the school board, African American voters are packed into just one of the Board’s seven districts: African Americans represent 81 percent of that district’s voting age population, while comprising an average of only 23.6 percent of potential voters in the other districts. This disparity suppresses the voting strength of black adults in six districts. The new map will better reflect the African American presence in the County as a whole.”
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit were represented by a team of attorneys from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Ezra Rosenberg and Arusha Gordon), Carlton Fields (Robert D. Helfand, Gail Podolsky, John Herrington) and the offices of Jerry Wilson.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; and criminal justice. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.
About Carlton Fields
Carlton Fields has nearly 400 attorneys and government and financial services consultants serving clients from offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Washington, D.C. The firm is known for its national litigation practice, including class action defense, trial practice, white-collar representation, and high-stakes appeals; its regulatory practice; and its handling of sophisticated business transactions and corporate counseling for domestic and international clients. For additional information, visit www.carltonfields.com. (Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A. practices law in California through Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, LLP)
About the Georgia NAACPFounded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The Georgia NAACP has had an unbroken presence in Georgia since 1917 and maintains a network of branches throughout Georgia, from cities to small rural counties. The Georgia NAACP has been the most effective and consistent advocates for civil and human rights in Georgia.