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The Power of Now
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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and co-counsel Neil Bradley, on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Fayette County Branch of the NAACP, and ten Black voters, have successfully settled a transformative Voting Rights Act (VRA) lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners (BOC), Board of Education (BOE), and other officials of Fayette County, Georgia. The settlement in Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners, et al. follows a more than four-year fight to provide Black voters in Fayette County with the equal opportunity to elect members to county government.
LDF filed this 2011 challenge to Fayette County’s discriminatory at-large method of electing all five members to the BOC and BOE under Section 2 of the VRA. Until this lawsuit, no Black person of any political affiliation had ever been elected to either body, even though Black residents comprise approximately 20% of Fayette County’s population and consistently vote together in countywide elections. Rather, white voters, who comprise approximately 80% of the electorate, controlled all five seats on each board.
“The settlement represents a milestone in our representative democracy,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “It reflects the desire of the majority of citizens of Fayette to reach a solution that complies with the principles of the VRA and offers all voters the opportunity to participate equally in the political process.”
“This litigation empowered Black voters in Fayette County, for the first time in history, with the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in 2014 and 2015,” said Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel at LDF and lead counsel on this case. “Seizing that opportunity, the voters elected the first and second Black County Commissioners in the history of the County, which recorded the highest voter turnout of all 159 counties in Georgia in the 2014 election. The settlement that we achieved will build upon this progress and continue to ensure that Black voters in Fayette County have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”
The new redistricting plan approved by the parties includes four single-member districts, including one in which Black voters will continue to have the ability to elect their preferred candidates, and one at-large district. The new redistricting plan is similar to plans used by numerous other Georgia counties, including Bibb, Columbus-Muscogee, Glynn, Harris, Marion, Richmond, and Peach counties, to elect members of their county commissions and/or school boards.
Prior to the court-ordered mediation in this case, business and community leaders, including the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce and a Georgia legislator who represents the County, publicly urged that the case be resolved so that the County could move forward toward its vision of becoming an inclusive, democratic “…place where all types of people can find a home.” The County had already expended more than $1 million in public funds to defend the lawsuit prior to trial. “This settlement will put a halt to the significant time and expense that has been committed to this case by the parties and allow the County to refocus its full attention and resources on other issues of importance to its residents,” said Neil Bradley, LDF’s co-counsel and civil rights attorney.
Defendants – BOC, BOE, and Board of Elections and Voter Registration – approved the settlement at separate public meetings last week. Plaintiffs and the BOE currently await the approval of a consent order by the federal court, following which the BOE will exercise its self-redistricting authority under Georgia law to adopt the redistricting plan. The redistricting plan for the BOC will require the enactment of legislation by the Georgia General Assembly.
“We are pleased to have reached a resolution of this litigation and look forward to the full adoption and implementation of the redistricting plans in BOC and BOE elections going forward,” said Victorien Wu, an LDF attorney and member of the litigation team in this case.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the country’s first and foremost civil and human rights law firm. Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, LDF’s mission has always been transformative: to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society. LDF’s victories established the foundations for the civil rights that all Americans enjoy today. In its first two decades alone, LDF undertook a coordinated legal assault against officially enforced public school segregation. This campaign culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the unanimous landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954 that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine of legally sanctioned discrimination, widely known as Jim Crow.
LDF has been a separate organization from the NAACP since 1957. Please refer to us as “LDF.”