Court arguments over Cobb’s disputed electoral map begins
Before a crowded courtroom of spectators, who represented both sides of the issue, the pending lawsuits over Cobb County’s disputed electoral map made a court appearance. Lawyers made their first arguments at a hearing on Friday.
During the hearing that lasted over three hours, a lawyer for the county asked Cobb County Superior Court Judge Ann Harris to dismiss both suits, and a lawyer for Kelli Gambrill argued for the cases to move forward.
Judge Harris declined to hear arguments over the merits of the case until she rules on the county’s motion to dismiss the suit challenging its authority to change district maps passed by the state Legislature or allows the suit to advance.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr was invoked as statements from him and other state officials have said the move by Cobb County is unconstitutional. His office filed a legal brief in May saying that the county’s amendment to its district map overruling the state Legislature “contravenes the state’s reapportionment law, is beyond the commissioners’ power, and is void.”
The attorney representing Cobb County argued in the novel case that the county had the right to change the map passed by Republicans in the Legislature that drew a sitting commissioner out of her district mid-term and pointed to the Home Rule provision of the state Constitution as its justification.
Representing the county, Elizabeth Monyak, said the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case forward, failed to show how their rights were violated, and could be motivated by partisanship. “A court is not there to vindicate political partisan interests,” Monyak said. “The plaintiffs may have preferred that map; perhaps they, for all I know, maybe the plaintiffs were happy that a sitting commissioner was drawn out … but that’s not cognizable harm. That’s political partisan preference.”
“Our argument is: (the Board of Commissioners) didn’t follow the law. That should be sufficient, your honor,” said Attorney Ray Smith, who represents plaintiffs Keli Gambrill and David and Catherine Floam. He argued that the map is illegal and does present “a harm, not only to my clients but to all voters of Cobb County.” Smith said the county did in fact violate its public duty — the duty to follow state law. “When a local government owes a legal duty to its citizens, residents, taxpayers or voters, i.e. community stakeholders, the violation of that legal duty constitutes an injury,” Smith said.
The lawsuit is one of two filed earlier in the year by Gambrill, a sitting Republican county commissioner, in her capacity as a resident in response to the commission’s Democratic majority, led by Chair Lisa Cupid, who invoked home rule powers last October to redraw their own district lines to preserve Commissioner Jerica Richardson’s seat. Richardson is a Democrat and the five member commission is represented by three Democrats and two Republicans.
A map signed into law last year by Gov. Brian Kemp, after it was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, drew Richardson out of her district. The Floams, who are also Cobb County residents, were recently added as plaintiffs.
In one suit, Gambrill is asking Judge Ann Harris to rule the commission’s map unconstitutional. In the other, she’s asking the judge to compel the county to replace its own map with the state’s map. Two Cobb residents were later added as plaintiffs to the lawsuit. Judge Harris allowed Gambrill to add Catherine and David Floam to the case.
At the end of the lengthy technical constitutional debate by the lawyers, Judge Harris said she declined to issue a ruling Friday. “I need to go back and look y’alls briefs and look at some of the cases again, and we’ll try to get an order out on both motions to dismiss as soon as we can,” Harris said.
The Judges’ decision on whether Gambrill and the Floams have standing will determine if the two lawsuits move forward. Said Harris, “I hope everybody that’s been watching understands that standing is not just an amorphous concept out there. It has real implications and real meaning in real cases. So if nothing else, even if you’re not lawyers, I hope you took that away from the case this afternoon.”