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Cobb County school board faces political showdown, judge ruled districts to be unconstitutionally discriminatory

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will have to order a special session in order for Georgia state lawmakers to draw a new map after US federal judge found Cobb County School District board to be unconstitutionally discriminatory and must be quickly redrawn ahead of 2024’s elections. The judge said the new map should be drawn by January 10. The school board said this deadline is impossible to meet as it takes away the legislature’s rightful chance to fix the problems.

The regular meeting scheduled to take place on January 8 won’t work because and normal legislative rules don’t allow a bill to pass in three days.

A judge declared that the school board’s electoral districts in Georgia’s second-biggest education district seem to violate the Constitution’s anti-discrimination rules. These districts need to be restructured quickly for the 2024 elections.

Judge Eleanor Ross, on Thursday, stopped the Cobb County school district from using a districting plan favored by the four Republican members on the board. She issued a temporary order because she believes the plan is likely an illegal racial gerrymander.

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On Friday, the Cobb County district asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to immediately intervene and dismiss the judge’s order. The district argues it was unfairly left out of the lawsuit. They caution that if the appeals court doesn’t act fast, the plaintiffs’ plan to use the courts to undermine Cobb County voters’ choice and replace the current redistricting map with their own politically motivated one will work as they planned.

In 2024, there will be elections for four positions on the board. A new district map might disrupt the current 4-3 Republican lead. The district, which has 106,000 students, has experienced significant political disputes lately. The Republican majority frequently overrides the objections of the three Democratic members.

“The court’s decision is a resounding victory for voting rights,” said Poy Winchakul, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs. “Fair maps are essential to the democracy process and ensure Cobb County voters of color have an equal voice in schools.”

But the school board immediately responded claiming that these actions are nothing but the Democrats trying to gain control over the board.

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“This scheme is destined to facilitate plaintiffs’ political seizure of the board as the overriding goal in this litigation,” the board wrote in its appeal.

The lawsuit alleges that Republicans illegally crammed Black and Hispanic voters into three districts in the southern part of the suburban Atlanta county, solidifying Republicans’ hold on the remaining four districts.

Ross agreed, finding the people who drew the map relied too much on race.

The lawsuit is unusual because the school district was dismissed earlier, leaving only the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration as a defendant. That body, like the county commission, is controlled by Democrats, and decided to settle the lawsuit. The decision to settle, which set the stage for Ross’ order, prompted the school board in October to accuse the elections board of colluding with “leftist political activists,” giving them “considerable and inappropriate influence to interfere with the lawfully established” maps.

The district calls the elections board and its director “sham defendants” and wants the appeals court to put the district back in the case. It’s also asking the appeals court to overturn all the recent orders, including the preliminary injunction and re-open discovery “giving the district a fair opportunity” to oppose the plaintiffs. It says Ross “completely ignored” its recent arguments.

The plaintiffs on Dec. 6 asked the appeals court to dismiss an earlier version of the appeal, saying the school district wasn’t a party to the case and there was no final order ripe for appeal.

Oral argument in the appeal is set for Jan. 30, but the district is seeking a quicker decision, saying Ross may impose a map by then.

The school board has spent more than $1 million defending the lawsuit, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

Calliope Hargrave



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