Federal judge in redistricting lawsuit rules Cobb schools’ map must be redrawn

Scales of Justice with the word justice over it.

by Rebecca Gaunt

United States District Judge Eleanor Ross of the Northern Court of Georgia ruled Thursday that the Cobb County School District school board map must be redrawn by the state legislature.

“The Court has found that the Enacted Map is substantially likely to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The ‘public has no interest in enforcing unconstitutional redistricting plans,’ and the Court will not ‘require the residents of’ Cobb County ‘to live for the next [several] years in districts defined by a map that is substantially likely to be unconstitutional,” she wrote in the order that granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction.

The document also stated that the plaintiffs’ evidence supported that the enacted map “‘was carefully tailored to facilitate the packing of minority voters’ and that the Challenged Districts  (Districts 2, 3, and 6) ‘and four white-controlled districts (Districts 1, 4, 5, and 7) were made possible by packing the white population in the North and the Black and Latinx population in the South.’” 

Advertisement

The Cobb County Board of Elections was the only remaining defendant in the lawsuit filed by a collection of individuals and civil rights groups. The elections board agreed to settle the lawsuit in October. 

In January, the Cobb County School District voluntarily intervened in the lawsuit at a cost of $1 million and rising to defend the maps drawn by the Taylor English law firm at the behest of the Republican majority of the school board.

Read more here: Secrecy dominated Cobb school board redistricting process, court documents show 

In July, the school district celebrated its dismissal from the lawsuit after it was cleared of liability. However, the lawsuit was allowed to move forward as it was originally filed, with the elections board and then-director Janine Eveler as the only defendants.

Although it is no longer a party, the district, represented by the Freeman Mathis & Gary law firm, submitted an amicus brief against the request for injunction and sought Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiffs.

The judge ruled that the school district failed to meet its burden to prove sanctions were warranted.

“It is well-settled that Rule 11 sanctions are only appropriate if a claim is ‘factually groundless,’ wholly unsupported by evidence, or where litigants display ‘deliberate indifference to obvious facts’…the Court finds that Plaintiffs demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success in their racial gerrymandering claim pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause,” Ross wrote.

The Georgia General Assembly must adopt the new maps by Jan. 10. The deadline for either party to enter objections is Jan. 12, and Jan. 17 is the last day for either party to respond to another party’s objections. April 1 is the deadline to submit any motions for summary judgment or a consolidated pretrial order.

Read the judge’s order in full here.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.

Advertisement