Attorney general: Cobb’s redistricting map unlawful in lawsuit brief

Lawyers will argue in pending lawsuit’s first court hearing May 23
Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr speak to media after an anti-gang summit at Georgia State University in Atlanta on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr speak to media after an anti-gang summit at Georgia State University in Atlanta on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr weighed in on the lawsuit against Cobb County’s commission electoral map, which is set to have its first hearing in Cobb Superior Court on May 23.

In a brief filed Friday, Carr argues 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,” as he previously argued in an unofficial opinion letter earlier this year.

Keli Gambrill, a sitting county commissioner, filed a lawsuit in her capacity as a resident against her fellow board members after the Democratic majority passed its own map last year to preserve Commissioner Jerica Richardson’s seat.

Richardson had been drawn out of her district by state lawmakers in early 2022, which some legal experts argue would have rendered her unqualified to serve the rest of her elected term if the county had not taken action. The issue would likely be decided by the courts.

By amending its own electoral map, the commission created a constitutional question of whether the home rule provision of the state constitution allows a county board to redraw its own district lines. While the county legal team argues that it can, Carr and other state officials have decried the move as unconstitutional.

“Home rule allows counties to fill in gaps left by higher authorities. In this case, the General Assembly explicitly addressed the gap that the Board of Commissioners tried to fill, namely Cobb County’s voting districts,” Carr says in the brief.

Further, Carr argues in his brief that the question is not novel and that his position is backed by existing federal case law. He cites Bodker v. Taylor (2002), a U.S. District Court case that says the state Legislature “shall be the sole legislative authority with the power to redistrict counties.” He also cites another federal ruling, Smith v. Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration, in which the court ruled the local government entities “are without any authority to change the boundaries of the existing districts.”

County Attorney Bill Rowling, however, has argued previously that “whether redistricting falls within its home rule authority is a constitutional question of first impression.”

Rowling could not be reached for comment, but he and former Gov. Roy Barnes have previously defended the county’s move as lawful.

It appears the question of which map the county must use will finally be answered in court after two previous lawsuits were withdrawn and refiled due to procedural issues.

If Superior Court Judge Ann Harris rules in Cobb County’s favor, the redistricting process across the state of Georgia could be completely upended as counties begin to practice a newfound power of drawing their own district lines — a move that many argue is highly unlikely.

If the court rules the state’s map is lawful, Richardson could be forced to vacate her District 2 seat, leaving the board in a 2-2 partisan split until a special election can be held for the position.

The board has been operating in an uncertain legal limbo for several months. When the county’s map took effect in January, tensions flared between the Republican commissioners, who have protested the move from the beginning, and the Democratic commissioners, who have stood behind it.

The first hearing for the pending lawsuit will be held May 23, at 9 a.m. in Cobb County Superior Court.