Voting Rights Challenge to Metro Atlanta Municipal Incorporations Dismissed (and the right wing notices!)

A three judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the voting rights suit Lowery v. Deal on February 4. This decision was not unexpected, but skirts many questions about the suit, the historical context of racial (and “post-racial”) conflict under which the cities in question incorporated, the ethics of allowing residents of a small privileged locality to decide unilaterally to incorporate without regard to the effects on the metro area as a whole, and the proper interpretation of vote dilution in a metropolitan context.

Indeed, while the plaintiffs initial claim raised all of these issues, the district court dismissed the suit by denying the existence of a voting rights violation, and the circuit court elected to defer to the lower court’s judgment while adding its own conclusion that Governor Nathan Deal (in his capacity as the chief executive of the state) was improperly named as the plaintiff in the case because the state’s General Assembly was the party that could provide relief.

The court’s unpublished opinion is here (link to .pdf).

I’m not a lawyer, though I’m quite fond of second-guessing court decisions. I can only defer to the judicial experience of the three judges, who concluded that there was no legal basis to reverse the lower court. But I can note as a historical scholar that the flattening of the process of metropolitan formation–the historical conflicts over space and resources that have been driven by and helped reformulate racial inequality in greater Atlanta, both by denying resources to African Americans and preserving privileges for whites and by insulating whites from decisions made by black politicians on behalf of black constituents–to a question of legal procedure is disturbing.

The agenda of metropolitan fragmentation and potential secession, which was clearly identified by the Lowery plaintiffs in their initial complaint as an inherent part of the motive to incorporate the cities, is what sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant term a “racial project”–an effort to remake political geography to sustain white advantages and insulate wealthy and mostly white populations from political and fiscal demands made by blacks.

The right-wing World Nut Net Daily weighed in on Atlanta this week (no links to wingnuts), approving of the dismissal of Lowery because it will allow suburbanites to continue to separate themselves from Atlanta’s problems (as though those problems are not inherently tied to suburban separatism). The piece led off  by declaring Atlanta the “Detroit of the South.” Since the economies, geographies, recent histories, and culture of the two cities are about as different as Vernor’s and Coca-Cola, there’s only one logical way to link the two: both are cities from which whites fled and in opposition to which white suburbanites define their interests. There’s enough historical literature on these two cities to prove that case amply, but it wouldn’t do to link the problems of predominantly black cities to the self-serving actions of white suburbanites. Instead, the author finds an anonymous (and, I would guess, fictitious) black political leader to make the following observation:

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit in 2011 to dissolve the new cities, claiming they were a “super-white majority”and diluting the voting power of minorities.

A key leader in the black community and a driving force in support of the lawsuit, who wishes to remain anonymous, bemoaned the “disturbing tendency of black electorates to not elect the smartest and brightest, or even the cleverest.”

Nonetheless, he believes that there is a social contract between the northern and southern parts of the county.

“So when you allow powerful groups of citizens to opt out of a social contract, and form their own, it may benefit the group opting out, but it hurts the larger collective,” he said.

The lawsuit would have canceled incorporation and tied the cities back into the very county that they purposefully left.


Meanwhile, the same concerns that spurred incorporation continue to mount.

This is actually an unusually clever rhetorical maneuver for WND, so it bears some analysis. While the author grants some room to the claim that there is a social contract between north and south Fulton County, he ultimately plays to the reader’s preexisting prejudice, one that his black politico “source” helpfully voices for him: when blacks vote, the argument goes, they elect incompetent leadership that seeks only to leech off of wealthy whites. Furthermore, the black leaders thus elected are cynical and contemptuous of their constituents (part of the “why don’t black people recognize that the Republican Party has their best interests at heart?” line of rhetoric). This sort of self-dealing politician, and not the region’s history of white abandonment of the public sector in the face of integration, nor the history of white flight, is the source of current problems in Fulton and DeKalb Counties.

It should go without saying that this line of argument is steeped in contemporary color-blind racist ideology and willful ignorance of the region’s history. But, if it’s good enough for the courts….

7 comments on “Voting Rights Challenge to Metro Atlanta Municipal Incorporations Dismissed (and the right wing notices!)

  1. […] black self-government is doomed to failure through its own profligacy (such comments generally ignoring the history of white disinvestment from cities in racial transition), the substitution of managers […]

  2. […] that Black self-government is doomed to failure through its own profligacy (such comments generally ignoring the history of white disinvestment from cities in racial transition), the substitution of managers […]

  3. […] profound concern for jurisdictions because of the ways that those kinds of boundaries structure the social and fiscal conflicts of metropolitan life, facilitate resource hoarding, and divide communities of opportunity. […]

  4. […] was dismissed by the district court and an appeal failed to win in the Circuit Court. I’ve written about the suit here, and will have an article published at some point in the future in the Journal […]

  5. […] opportunity to announce that I’ve seen the light. My critiques of market-based development, political fragmentation, and historically institutionalized racism in metropolitan America are way off base. In fact, […]

  6. […] a slight majority and denied those voters the ability to influence the decision to form cities. The dismissal of the voting rights suit Lowery v. Deal in 2013 (which I wrote about in a study of metropolitan […]

  7. […] is no one’s idea of a staunch voting rights advocate. I criticized his decision in 2013 in Lowery v. Deal, which dealt with the dilution of minority voting power in Fulton County’s newly incorporated […]

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