Georgia Accused of Creating White Cities in Majority Black Counties
The state of Georgia is accused of creating white municipal enclaves in two majority black counties. In a federal voting rights lawsuit filed last week, civil rights activist Rev. Joseph Lowery, seven individual voters, and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) contend that Georgia created several little white cities as a way to dilute black voting strength and political power in Fulton and DeKalb counties, where Atlanta is located.
“During the course of the last thirty years, minorities, specifically blacks, have become the dominant racial group in Fulton County and DeKalb County,” the complaint explains, and as a result “said minorities have assumed marginal control of the institutions of political power at the county level in both Fulton and DeKalb County.” Specifically, Fulton County is 44.5% black and 40.9% white, while DeKalb is 54.4% black and 30.1% white, according to the 2010 Census.
“However,” the plaintiffs argue, “starting in 2005, and presumably to thwart this trend and to blunt the emergent political power of blacks in these counties, the defendant [State of Georgia] passed laws to establish racial enclaves within Fulton County and DeKalb County that were predominantly white, unlike the political subdivisions from which they were carved. These municipal voting districts (“MVDs”) supplanted the fully functional and racially balanced county government that, for over 150 years, had provided all local government services for the citizens of Fulton County and DeKalb County.”
The complaint’s most salient argument for voting rights purposes is that the “MVDs were created outside of the normal legislative process for the illicit purpose of carving a white majority jurisdiction from a black controlled political unit.” Specifically, the plaintiffs claim the state repealed laws requiring cities to provide at least three municipal services directly and mandating a minimum three-mile buffer between any new city and any existing city. The state also designated the bills creating the cities as statewide, rather than local, legislation, to preclude local state legislators, many of whom are black and opposed the bills, from stopping them in the committee process. Finally, the complaint points out that only persons resident in the proposed little white cities were allowed to vote on their creation.
Four of the new MVDs are in Fulton County: Sandy Springs, created in 2005, Milton (2006), Johns Creek (2006), and Chattahoochee Hills (2007), while two are in DeKalb: Dunwoody (2008) and Brookhaven (2012). All, according to the complaint, are much whiter than the counties out of which they were carved, as demonstrated by their racial makeup. Thus Sandy Springs is 78% white and 12% black; Milton is 72.4% white and 9% black; Johns Creek is 59.9% white and 9.2% black; Chattahoochee Hills is 65.7% white and 27.4% black; Dunwoody is 64.1% white and 12.6% black; and Brookhaven is 47.7% white and 10.9% black. All are also wealthier than the counties at large.
Another key factual contention relates to the dilution of minority political power. Only one black candidate has been elected to an executive position in all of the newly created MVDs, while in Fulton and DeKalb County, at least half of the county commissioners are black, according to the complaint.
“This effort by the defendant to create separate government for whites in the new MVDs, and the drastically different demographic breakdown of the MVDs compared to the original county demographics, is simply abhorrent under both federal and state law, and patently illegal under the 14th Amendment,” and the Voting Rights Act, the complaint concludes.
The plaintiffs request a declaratory judgment that the city charters are illegal under state and federal law, an order rescinding them, and an injunction barring the state from issuing new ones. Because a similar lawsuit, also brought by Lowery and the GLBC, was dismissed in March 2011 by federal District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr., because he believed that breaking up the little white cities was not a permissible remedy under the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs added an alternative request that elections in the MVDs “be held at the county level so as to preserve the right to vote of the minorities in each of the MVDs and the original counties.”
Batten’s ruling dismissing the earlier case, which did not comment on the merits of the case but was based solely on the remedy, is being appealed, in part on the grounds that George W. Bush appointee Batten, as a former resident of one of the little white cities, should have recused himself from the case.
To Learn More:
Georgia Bending Over for White Folks, Joseph Lowery & Black Caucus Say (by Iulia Filip, Courthouse News Service)
Lawsuit: Let all of DeKalb vote in Brookhaven election (by April Hunt, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Lowery et al. v. Deal (Complaint, 2012) (pdf)
Georgia Government Ranked Least Ethical in U.S. (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
FBI Zeros in on Corrupt Judges and Legislators in Georgia (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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