Atlanta, Georgia–This week, LDF Assistant Counsel Leah Aden presented oral argument before a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in defense of a successful Voting Rights Act lawsuit that required Fayette County, Georgia to conduct its elections for County Commission and School Board under a district-based plan.
That win paved the way for Fayette County voters in the November 2014 elections to both lead the state of Georgia in voter turnout, and to make history electing the candidate of their choice, the first-ever Black woman, to serve on the County Commission.
Before three federal judges, and a ceremonial courtroom filled to capacity with clients and residents of Fayette County who chartered a bus to attend, Aden forcefully argued that both the County Commission and Board of Education previously used at-large voting as a structural wall of exclusion, which ensured that Black voters could not elect their candidates of choice. Aden argued, although African Americans make up 20 percent of the county’s population, are concentrated in the northern part of the county and had run in election after election (as both Democrats and Republicans), no Black candidate had ever been elected to either body in the county’s nearly two-century history.
After weighing all the evidence, a federal district court ultimately ruled that Fayette County’s at-large method of election violated the Voting Rights Act because it provided less opportunity for Black voters to elect their candidates of choice. To remedy the Voting Right Act violation it found, Aden argued, the federal district court properly ordered that district-based elections be held going forward, with one district in which Black voters make up the majority of the voting-age population.
LDF filed this case on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Fayette County NAACP and 10 Black Fayette County voters. For nearly 20 years Black voters in Fayette County advocated for district-based voting.
Despite the progress of November’s elections, Fayette County’s appeal adds to the approximately $1 million of taxpayer’s money thus far spent in defense of its racially discriminatory at-large method of election.
Following the argument, the Fayette County NAACP awarded LDF its highest honor, the John Lewis Freedom Award, for its work on this case.