Hearing scheduled in Gwinnett minority voting rights lawsuit

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 4:  Georgia voter stickers are displayed for voters in the midterm election at Grady High School on November 4, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Georgia Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn is running in a tight race against Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

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ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 4: Georgia voter stickers are displayed for voters in the midterm election at Grady High School on November 4, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn is running in a tight race against Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Both sides of a lawsuit challenging the structure of Gwinnett’s county commission and school board are expected to be in court later this month.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in August, alleges that Gwinnett's current districts violate the federal Voting Rights Act  by diluting the influence of minority voters. Gwinnett is a majority-minority county —meaning non-white residents outnumber white ones — but neither the Board of Commissioners nor the school board has ever had a non-white member.

The lawsuit was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the individual plaintiffs, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. It proposes creating at least one majority-minority commission district and two such school board districts.

Both county boards named as defendants in the suit have filed motions to dismiss, arguing in part that the Voting Rights Act is meant to protect the voting interests of large groups of a single minority — not a “minority coalition” of blacks, Latinos and Asians like the one relied on in the lawsuit.

Oral arguments regarding the motions to dismiss will be held on the morning of April 17, according to online records.

The way Gwinnett's commission and school board districts are constructed has also been targeted recently by members of the state's legislature.

Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat from Duluth, filed a bill last month that would add two new seats to the five-member Board of Commissioners, redrawing the district map in the process. Another bill would do the same thing for the county's school board.

Both pieces of legislation are aimed at opening the door for more diverse representation, Marin has said.

The lack of diversity on Gwinnett's most influential boards has garnered new attention in the aftermath of Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter calling civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig" on Facebook.