Lawsuit over “super-majority white neighborhoods” in Atlanta suburbs

Atlanta is often held up as an example of Southern sprawl. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on a new lawsuit filed against some recently created suburban communities north of Atlanta:

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit Monday against the state of Georgia seeking to dissolve the city charters of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills…

The lawsuit, filed in a North Georgia U.S. District Court Monday, claims that the state circumvented the normal legislative process and set aside its own criteria when creating the “super-majority white ” cities within Fulton and DeKalb counties. The result, it argues, is to dilute minority votes in those areas, violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution…

Sandy Springs, created in 2005, is 65 percent white and 20 percent black. Milton, formed a year later, is 76.6 percent white and 9 percent black. Johns Creek, also formed that year, is 63.5 percent white and 9.2 percent black. Chattahoochee Hills, formed in 2007, is 68.6 percent white and 28 percent black, while Dunwoody, created in 2008, is 69.8 percent white and 12.6 percent black.

Emory University law professor Michael Kang said the case is unique because the Voting Rights Act focuses on redistricting, whereas this lawsuit challenges the legality of cities. Kang, who has not reviewed the case in its entirety, said the plaintiffs will likely have to show evidence of discriminatory purpose to have a strong claim. Kane said the case has interesting implications.

“If we look at this realistically, there is some white flight going on. The creation of these Sandy Springs-type cities enables white voters to get away from black voters,” he said. “It does strike me that the Voting Rights Act might have something to say about this, but it’s unknown what the courts will say about it.”

There is little doubt that there are exclusionary practices that take place in suburban communities, whether this is through zoning for particular uses (typically to avoid apartment buildings or lower-income housing – read about a recent debate over this in Winnetka, Illinois) or high real estate prices.

But the idea that incorporation itself is exclusionary is an interesting idea. Certainly, this is done along class lines: wealthier communities have incorporated in order to help protect their status and boundaries. Cities and suburbs have a long history of annexation in order to expand their own boundaries and their tax base (see this argument that Detroit should annex surrounding areas to help solve some of its problems). But was this done intentionally in regards to race (as opposed to just class or other issues) in these Atlanta suburbs? And what sort of evidence would a court find persuasive in this argument?

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