Supreme Court sees “Calamitous Consequences” in Cobb Map

Today, the Georgia Supreme Court released its decision in Cobb County v. Floam, et. al, deciding that although the Floams had standing to bring the case, they had not met their burden of “uncertainty” to seek declaratory judgment and the case was dismissed.

Writing for an unanimous Georgia Supreme Court, Presiding Justice Nels Peterson asserted that the Floams had not shown how the uncertainty of which map was the legal map would affect the Floams future conduct, a necessary requirement to seek declaratory judgement.

A declaratory judgment is a binding judgment from a court defining the legal relationship between parties and their rights in a matter before the court. When there is uncertainty as to the legal obligations or rights between two parties, a declaratory judgment offers an immediate means to resolve this uncertainty.

In their case, the Floams failed, according to the Court, to articulate a concrete future uncertainty. “They have not established that they are insecure about some future action they plan to take, and they have not shown a need to declare rights upon which their future conduct depends,” stated the Court.

Because of the lack of standing, the Court sidestepped the issues surrounding the constitutionality of the Home Rule Map itself, but indicated that that the uncertainty created by the action of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners could have, in the words of Justice Charlie Bethel in his concurring opinion, “calamitous consequences inflicting serious expense and practical hardship on [Cobb County] citizens.”

Justice Bethel noted, “sooner or later, a proper party will almost certainly bring a proper claim, and a court will decide the novel issue raised in this case. A review of the record and the current posture of the Cobb County Commission suggests that an adverse merits decision for Cobb could feasibly result in at least one current Commission member to be found to lack residency in his or her district. And Cobb is currently conducting elections for two seats under the contested maps. Litigation during and even after those elections seems inevitable...Indeed, depending on the timeline of any future litigation, it would not be inconceivable for Cobb to find itself with three vacant Commission seats and the Commission unable to form a quorum, leaving its citizens without duly elected representation.” <emphasis added>

In March, I noted that the ideal plaintiff would be a candidate refused qualifying or the Cobb County Republican Party itself, which would need immediate declaratory relief as to which map to use for qualifying. While the Cobb GOP didn’t engage in litigation nor did it refused to qualify any candidates running in the disputed Commission District 2, candidate Alicia Adams, who lives in the district according to the map passed by the General Assembly, but not the Home Rule Map, was eventually disqualified for lack of residency by the Cobb County Board of Elections. Adams’s case is still pending in Cobb Superior Court, where Judge Kellie Hill was likely waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Court’s decision today will allow that challenge to proceed, but early voting has already begun without Adams on the ballot. Certainly the delay in a final resolution has caused undue uncertainty for both the political parties in Cobb, their candidates, and Cobb County voters alike.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how Cobb County will be able to unravel the electoral mess it has created through its “novel” and very likely unconstitutional actions.

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