The U.S. Supreme Court removed two Georgia Public Service Commission races from the Nov. 8 ballot, but left open the possibility for an appeals court to reconsider the five-member board that were ruled discriminatory by a district court judge.
The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals erred last week when it blocked a U.S. District Court injunction to delay the PSC elections until after Georgia lawmakers replaced the district-seat, statewide election process that violates the Voting Rights Act by hindering Black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates.
The 11th circuit judges can decide if they want to review the case and place the two commission races back onto this fall’s midterm election ballot by using a more sound legal argument than claiming the injunction came down too close to the election, the Supreme Court decision said.
In a 2-1 vote last week, the Circuit Court granted the state’s emergency motion to proceed with the elections conducted on the same general election featuring high-profile races for governor, secretary of state, and U.S. Senate.
With the ruling by the nation’s highest court, the two PSC seats that were up for grabs this year are back on hold as the deadline approaches for the secretary of state’s office to have ballots ready ahead of the Oct. 17 early voting period.
Meanwhile, the method Georgians will use to elect state regulators will be decided during the appeal of U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg’s ruling in favor of the four plaintiffs seeking district-level elections that they say increases the chances that Black residents’ concerns are heard by commissioners who decide how much Georgia Power and other utilities’ charge for electricity and natural gas.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court took this important step toward ensuring that this November’s PSC elections are not held using a method that unlawfully dilutes the votes of millions of Black citizens in Georgia,” plaintiff’s attorney Nico Martinez said on Friday. “We look forward to presenting the merits of our case on appeal and are confident the district court’s well-reasoned decision will ultimately be upheld.”
The Supreme Court’s order comes a day after a Fulton County Superior Court judge reversed Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to disqualify Democratic candidate Patty Durand, who was drawn out of District 2 by a GOP-created district map in the 2022 legislative session shortly before candidate qualifying started.
Durand and Libertarian Colin McKinney were set to face Republican Commissioner Tim Echols on the same November ballot as the District 3 race between appointed GOP incumbent Fitz Johnson and Democrat Shelia Edwards.
Despite accounting for more than 30% of the voting-age population, the PSC’s majority Black metro Atlanta district has only ever elected one Black commissioner.
Currently, commissioners must live in one of five regional districts but are elected by a statewide vote.
The state has argued that political partisanship is the primary factor determining why the majority of Black voters prefer certain candidates.
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