Legal Library

Georgia State Conference of NAACP Branches v. Cox

Overview

Georgia State Conference of NAACP Branches v. Cox challenged the constitutionality of the campaign finance system for Georgia state senate elections. Read the amended complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on November 12, 1997. The National Voting Rights Institute represented a group of plaintiffs including civil rights organizations, candidates for Georgia state senate, and Georgia voters. This action was brought pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the equal protection and the freedom of expression and association guarantees of the Georgia Constitution, for deprivation of the plaintiffs' rights to an equal and meaningful vote, including meaningful participation in the entire electoral process in Georgia state senate elections.

The average cost of a successful state senate campaign in Georgia from 1992 through 1996 was over $50,000. A report compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics showed that in three election cycles for Georgia state senate from 1992 to 1996, the better-funded candidate won 83% of the time. In addition, the report showed that during the same time period, winning candidates of general election races increased their average campaign fund by 32%, while the average campaign funds for losing nominees decreased by 48%. The funding advantage for winners compared to unsuccessful nominees in general elections for Georgia state senate rose from a 55% lead in 1992 to a 324% advantage, on average, in 1996. The complaint, which highlights many of the statistical findings of the report, alleged that the campaign finance system for Georgia's state senate elections discriminates against plaintiffs on the basis of their economic status, effectively excludes them from participating in a critical part of the electoral process and eliminates many qualified candidates on the basis of wealth and, thus, restricts voters' choices to candidates who have personal wealth or wealthy supporters.

Plaintiffs sought relief in federal court enjoining Georgia's operation of the wealth primary. Plaintiffs also sought remedial measures to reduce the dominance of wealth in Georgia state senate elections and provide alternative public financing to enable non-wealthy voters and candidates meaningful participation in state senate elections.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on January 12, 1998, to which plaintiffs and the Institute responded on February 17, 1998 with a Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

On September 23, 1998, the federal district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, ruling that plaintiff voters were not concretely harmed by Georgia's campaign finance system and that, therefore, they did not have standing to bring their claims. In its ruling, the district court incorrectly read key Supreme Court precedent which supports the plaintiffs' claims. That precedent clearly establishes that voters are injured by a denial of equal and meaningful participation in the electoral process as much as by a barrier to voting itself.

On October 20, 1998, the Institute appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. In January and in March 1999, we completed and filed our appellate brief and reply brief on behalf of our clients, and on May 18, 1999, we presented oral argument before a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit. The appeals court ruled unfavorably on August 11, 1999, and the case will not be appealed.