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Lawyers’ Committee Files Major Lawsuit Against Gwinnett County, Georgia Alleging Violation of the Voting Rights Act

For Immediate Release August 8, 2016

Lawsuit Seeks to Defend Rights of African-Americans, Latinos and Other Minorities Who Represent Half of County’s Population but Have Never Been Elected to Key Positions in County’s History

Washington, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), along with the Washington, D.C. office of Crowell and Moring LLP and Atlanta-based attorney Brian J. Sutherland, Esq. of Buckley Beal, LLP, acting as pro bono counsel, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP (GA NAACP), Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and seven Gwinnett County, Georgia-registered voters, alleging that the district boundaries for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the Gwinnett County Board of Education violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that the current district maps for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of minority voters. The suit alleges that these maps, coupled with a pattern of racially polarized voting, have long deprived African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Together, African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters comprise approximately 43 percent of the voting age population of Gwinnett County.

“Remarkably, Gwinnett County, Georgia is the most racially diverse county in the southeastern United States, yet no minority candidate has ever won election to the County Board of Commissioners or Board of Education,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “This case is about political power and the exclusion of racial minorities from key elected positions in the county. This exclusion is directly attributable to the discriminatory configuration of district maps and racially polarized voting, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Through this lawsuit we seek to ensure that Gwinnett County government reflects the racial diversity of the community that it serves.”

“The decisions of these boards impact the day-to-day lives of Gwinnett County residents in a myriad of ways, yet because of the packing and splitting of minority voters in the current district plans, minority candidates have been repeatedly defeated in Gwinnett County elections,” said Jerry Gonzalez, GALEO executive director. “District lines must be fairly drawn for minority communities to elect the representatives of their choice, to engage meaningfully with decision makers, and to make sure that their needs are addressed.”

The current Board of Education district map assigns approximately 74.4 percent of the African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters to District 5 and splits the balance of the minority population across the other four districts where African Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans do not constitute a majority of the population. The complaint alleges that the Board of Education districts should be re-drawn to include a second majority-minority district so that minority voters have a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Gwinnett County Board of Education.

Similarly, the current Board of Commissioners’ districting plan unnecessarily divides African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters among four single-member districts, preventing them from combining to form a majority in any district. The complaint alleges that two majority-minority Board of Commissioners districts should be drawn to give African-American, Latino and Asian-American the ability to elect candidates of their choice.

“This is a part of our ongoing post-Shelby election administration monitoring across Georgia,” said Francys Johnson, Statesboro civil rights attorney and Georgia NAACP state president. “This case is illustrious of the fact that freedom is a constant struggle. In Georgia’s rural town and counties to large cities, there has been a steady chipping away of the gains achieved under the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act and the redistricting process has been a major tool of retrogression. The NAACP will mortgage every asset we have to defend the unfettered access to the ballot. It was paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors – it’s sacred.”

To read the full complaint, please click here.

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About the Lawyers’ Committee

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; environmental justice; and criminal justice.  For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

About the Georgia NAACP

THE GEORGIA NAACP is the State’s oldest and largest civil and human rights organization.  With an unbroken presence in urban centers and rural counties, from the mountains to the coast since 1917, the NAACP advances the mission of eliminating racism through public policy advocacy, direct action, and litigation.

About GALEO

GALEO’s mission is to increase civic engagement and leadership development of the Latino/Hispanic community across Georgia.  GALEO strives for a better Georgia where the Latino community is engaged civically and its contributions and concerns are recognized.

About Crowell & Moring LLP

Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with approximately 500 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Anchorage, London, and Brussels. For more information, visit www.crowell.com.

About Buckley Beal, LLP

Buckley Beal, LLP is a boutique Atlanta law firm that focuses on representing plaintiffs in employment discrimination and commercial litigation. The firm’s attorneys have won multi-million verdicts and settlements for victims of discrimination, retaliation, and business fraud in federal and state courts, and advocate for civil rights and social justice with other important projects as well. For more information, visit www.buckleybeal.com

About The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The 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. The Lawyers' Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 as it continued its 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 fair lending, community development, employment, voting, education and environmental justice.

For more information about the Lawyers' Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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