Atlanta, Georgia—A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will require a trial in a successful Voting Rights Act challenge to Fayette County, Georgia at-large method of electing members to the County Commission and School Board.
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.
On summary judgment, a federal district court 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 that it found, the federal court 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.
The district court ruled that both bodies previously used at-large voting as a structural wall of exclusion, which ensured that Black voters could not elect their candidates of choice. Indeed, although Black people 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.
In returning the case to the lower court for a trial, the Eleventh Circuit was careful to note that “the district court made abundantly clear in its comprehensive opinion that the substantial weight of that evidence favored” plaintiffs.
Given the complex, fact-intensive nature of Voting Rights Act lawsuits, however, the Eleventh Circuit determined that, though “the [district] court’s conclusion may be sustainable,” a trial is necessary to provide an opportunity for witnesses to be examined live and for credibility determinations to be made.
The Eleventh Circuit also was careful not to disturb the results of the historic and remedial district-based elections held on November 4, 2014, during which Fayette County voters both led the state of Georgia in voter turnout, and made history by electing the candidates of their choice for both local bodies, including electing the first-ever Black woman, to serve on the County Commission.
Despite this progress, Fayette County continues to defend its racially discriminatory method of election, and to impose on Fayette taxpayers the costs (so far estimated to exceed $1.5 million) of that defense.
LDF is prepared to defend this important win at trial.
Read the appellate decision here.
Learn more about LDF’s defense of Plaintiffs’ Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act win before the Eleventh Circuit here.
A transcript of the oral argument proceedings is forthcoming.
Board of Commissioners Appeal (Aden’s remarks 12:54-28:09)
Board of Education Appeal (Aden’s remarks 15:15-27.26)