Article I; Section I; Paragraph II. Protection to person and property; equal protection. Protection to person and property is the paramount duty of government and shall be impartial and complete. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.
In addition to “equal protection” of the laws, the Georgia Constitution requires Georgia to provide “impartial and complete protection” to persons and property within Georgia. These additional words impose additional limitations. Impartial and complete protection to person and property is made the state’s “paramount duty” under the Georgia Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court never decided that gerrymandering does not violate “equal protection.” It only ruled that it lacks the power to decide. In addition, the Georgia Supreme Court is not bound by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as to the meaning of the Georgia Constitution.
Voting districts in Georgia created by one party designed to weaken the power of voters in the other party are clearly not “impartial.” Georgia’s failure to draw voting districts that represent whole communities already recognized by the State of Georgia are neither “impartial” nor “complete” protection to the Georgia voters and their property within their communities.
Now is the time to address Georgia’s failure to provide equal voting power to all Georgia voters in the real communities where they actually live. Under Georgia’s Constitution, voting districts should be combinations of existing community units already recognized by the state (counties, cities, NPUs). Laws creating districts providing voters with “impartial and complete” protection as well as “equal protection of the law” as required by the Georgia Constitution cannot be drawn based on how people vote, in a deliberate effort to reduce their voting power.
Many “community based” districts in Georgia would still remain either “red” or “blue” based on where voters actually live. What would change is those elected would need to represent their whole community and not just voters of one party. This would create local accountability to real voters of real communities. If “all politics is local” - shouldn’t our politicians also be local?
Joe Bankoff is former chair of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech; former CEO, Woodruff Arts Center and a former partner at law firm King and Spalding.