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Justices Halt Georgia Election Challenged Over Voting Rights (2)

Aug. 19, 2022, 4:06 PMUpdated: Aug. 19, 2022, 6:55 PM

Balloting for two seats on Georgia’s Public Service Commission won’t go forward for now after the US Supreme Court refused to reinstate a voting scheme that a trial court found illegally diluted Black voting strength.

The justices on Friday reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which had tossed a stay postponing the November election for those races on grounds the at-large method violated the Voting Rights Act.

In ruling on the appeal by a group of Black voters, the Supreme Court said that the Eleventh Circuit erred in lifting the injunction imposed Aug. 5 by US District Judge Steven D. Grimberg of the Northern District of Georgia.

The circuit court said the district court action came too close to the election. But the justices said the “appeal relied on the traditional stay factors and a likelihood of success on the merits, yet the Eleventh Circuit failed to analyze the motion under that framework.”

The appellate court can reconsider the issue under the correct framework, the justices said. The Eleventh Circuit responded swiftly by calling for briefing on whether it should again rule for the state. Briefs are due Aug. 23.

The Supreme Court order, which included no dissents, was a setback for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He appealed the injunction in an attempt to hold the election as planned.

Raffesnperger’s office didn’t return a request for comment. But an attorney representing the voters who appealed to the Supreme Court, Nicolas Martinez, called Friday’s order “an important step” to ensuring changes in how the election is held.

Unless overturned, Grimberg said the injunction would remain in effect until Georgia’s General Assembly, which meets in January, enacts a method for electing utility commissioners that complies with the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by Black voters in Georgia’s PSC District 3, which encompasses counties in the Atlanta area. These counties have populations that are nearly 49% Black—compared to the statewide Black population rate of 33%.

The Public Service Commission regulates telecommunications, electric, and natural gas services. Since 1906, elections for commissioners have been statewide.

—With assistance from Jacklyn Wille

The case is Rose v. Raffensperger, U.S. , No. 22A136.

(Adds comment from Bartlit Beck's Nicolas Martinez.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com