The Fayette County Board of Education is contending that race was a primary factor in creating a majority-minority district approved by a federal court judge who imposed district voting on future BoE and county commission elections.
That, and a lack of any evidence that black voters were discriminated against, is one of the several grounds with which the BoE is hoping to overturn the court’s district voting order, which was the result of a lawsuit filed by the local, state and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
At stake is a big change in how much local control Fayette residents have to elect representatives to the school board and county commission.
Under the old at-large format, all county residents could vote on all five seats on both governing bodies. Now, voters will be restricted to voting only for one of the five seats, corresponding with the geographic district in which the voter lives.
District voting makes it impossible for a voter to initiate or sign a recall petition to remove a wayward elected official from office if that official lives in another district.
Attorneys representing the BoE filed a brief May 27 with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing in part that there is no evidence that any of the plaintiffs have ever been “exposed to segregation by the Fayette County Board of Education or any other governmental entity in Fayette County.”
“In weighing the evidence, the court ignored the fact that the lack of evidence of discrimination was not limited to the individual plaintiffs — there was no evidence of any voting discrimination or other discrimination against black residents of Fayette County,” the BoE attorneys wrote.
The new district map adopted by the court “skips over natural geographic areas — solely because they are predominantly white — and reaches out awkwardly across narrow land bridges to reach other population areas — solely because they are predominately black,” the BoE’s appeal brief stated.
“The contorted configuration that is the bizarre boundary between District 5 and the adjacent districts — Districts 1 and 2 — has no remotely close analogue in normal Fayette County redistricting,” according to the brief.
The BoE also contends that the plaintiffs should have been required to devise a map which reaches the level of 50 percent of “eligible minority voters” instead of including “non-citizens who were ineligible to vote, as well as a litany of multiracial persons with no indication that those persons were in fact “politically cohesive” with the African American population of Fayette County.
The BoE further argues that U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten erred in granting summary judgment in the case instead of allowing it to proceed to trial, in large part due to the importance of such claims and the disputed nature of the evidence submitted.
“Defendants submitted abundant evidence that the Illustrative Plan was based predominantly on race, was not compact, disregarded traditional districting criteria, and constituted a racial gerrymander,” the BoE wrote in the lawsuit.
The BoE also argues that the court improperly ruled in favor of the NAACP because the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment only sought relief against the county commission, not the BoE.
The BoE’s appeal also quoted the plaintiff’s expert demographer, William Cooper, talking in a deposition about how similar black residents are to their fellow white residents in the county.
“African-Americans in Fayette County are not that distinctively different from their white counterparts,” Cooper said in the deposition. “If you look at education, income, you know, career paths and opportunities, military service, there are an incredible number of similarities between the African-American population and the white population in Fayette County.”
The appeal also noted that unlike many areas of the south, black residents in Fayette County “are not economically disadvantaged compared to whites.”
The NAACP and individual plaintiffs, along with the Fayette County Commission, have yet to file their appeal brief with the court.