On February 23, 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee, with the law firm Carlton Fields and Jerry Wilson, Esq., filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and two Emanuel County voters. The lawsuit asserted that the current district boundaries for the Emanuel County School Board violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Under the district map that went into effect for the School Board in 2012, voting age African Americans comprise 81% of the voting-age population (VAP) in one of the seven districts, and comprise an average of just 23.6% in each of the other six.
African Americans make up one-third of Emanuel County’s VAP, and close to half of the students in the county are African American; yet, there has never been more than one African-American elected member on the School Board at one time. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, alleged that the School Board map could, and should, be drawn to include a second district in which African Americans are a majority.
African Americans in Emanuel County continue to bear the effects of a long history of discrimination, which hinders their ability to participate effectively in the political process and has resulted in African American residents’ having a lower socioeconomic status and lagging behind white residents in a wide range of areas, including employment, income, education, and access to health care. Furthermore, the school board has overwhelmingly hired white applicants, despite the availability of qualified African American candidates. As a result, even though African American students make up nearly half of the student population in the county’s schools, the faculty and staff in the county’s schools contain a much smaller percentage of African Americans.
The parties reached an agreement in early December, with the County agreeing to redraw the districts so as to create a second majority African-American seat for the school board. Since redistricting must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly, the settlement agreement requires the school board to pass a resolution and work with the local delegation to the Assembly to ensure that lawmakers approve the new map. The Court has stayed the case until final approval by the Georgia Assembly and Governor.
Click here to view the Plaintiffs’ Complaint.