State Attorney General Sam Olens said an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision could make it easier to fend off a challenge to the recently redrawn Fulton County Commission districts.
Olens, speaking to the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce at its May 20 breakfast meeting, said the U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue a decision on whether Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act is constitutional.
The Fulton County Commission is issuing its challenge under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, passed in the mid-1960s to eliminate inequalities created by Segregation.
Section 5 requires the Federal Government to sign off on any changes to the voting process made by cities and states covered by the Act.
The pending U.S. Supreme Court decision is Shelby County v. Holder.
Georgia is a different place today than it was in the 1960s, Olens said. He also said the Act has made the country’s two major political parties – Republicans and Democrats – more polarized. Olens is a Republican.
“From my perspective, when any government seeks to reduce minority representation that government should be sued and sued big, because I totally support the fact that you should never dilute minority voting,” Olens said. “But the process should treat everyone fairly and under Section 5 you’re guilty before you’re proven innocent, and I don’t really people in Georgia are any better or worse than people in Massachusetts.”
The new Fulton County District map adds district seats and eliminates an at-large seat. The legislation also staggers commission terms. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Fulton County Commission intends to contact the U.S. Department of Justice with its concerns about the maps being an attempt to disenfranchise minority voters.
Olens made his comments in Sandy Springs, a majority white city formed in 2005. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus sued to revoke the charter of the cities of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. The lawsuit argued the new cities violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the minority vote. In March 2012, U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten dismissed the lawsuit against the new cities.
Sandy Springs in 2010 was exempted from Section 5 because the city was created after the Act was passed.
Olens said Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires preclearance ahead of any election changes, has created a more polarized electorate.
“Newt Gingrich was right 30 years ago when he said Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is going to create districts that have higher and higher minority voting and will absolutely be contrary to the American history of the melting pot,” Olens said.
Due to the Act, Olens said, the primary races in Georgia have become more important than the general elections held in November.
One member of the audience challenged Olens, asking if Republican-led redistricting efforts created districts with higher concentrations of minority voters. Olens disagreed, saying that without the Act the districts might not be as gerrymandered as they currently are.
“It’s by definition a political process, but you get to vote,” Olens said. “I would suggest to you if there weren’t a Section 5 it would be a really strong argument to tell your representative the city of Sandy Springs should have the same state senator.”