Federal Judge Refuses to Throw Out Georgia Runoffs With PM-Georgia Governor, Bjt
ATLANTA (AP) _ A federal judge today refused to halt Georgia’s Aug. 7 primary runoff despite a challenge by blacks to the state’s majority vote rule, saying the opponents had filed too late to disrupt this year’s elections.
The 16-page ruling, which came as voters were going to the polls to choose Democratic and Republican nominees for governor, allows the state to hold runoffs, if they are needed after today’s vote.
An attorney for the black plaintiffs said he could not rule out a future court challenge to the outcome of the runoff.
Granting an injunction to halt the runoff at this late date would ″significantly disrupt elections at all levels in Georgia,″ U.S. District Judge Richard C. Freeman said in his order.
Candidates who signed up for today’s primary ″reasonably believed that the majority vote requirement would govern the 1990 elections,″ Freeman said.
But he also said the plaintiffs had raised a legitimate point that would have to be decided later.
A coalition of black political and community leaders filed a lawsuit in May, seeking to abolish Georgia’s majority vote requirement on grounds that it discriminates against black voters.
They asked Freeman for a preliminary injunction that would have halted the Aug. 7 runoff. Such a runoff is expected in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, where pre-election polls indicate no one is likely to get an absolute majority. A runoff is considered less likely in the Republican primary.
Among the five Democrats in today’s governor’s race was Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor seeking to become Georgia’s first black governor. A ruling halting the runoff could have favored Young, most observers believe, although Young did not support the lawsuit.
The judge, who held a five-day hearing on the request last week, did not address the merits of the lawsuit itself in his ruling today. But he wrote, ″Given the evidence presently before the court, it appears to be a close question as to whether plaintiffs will ultimately prevail on the merits of their claims.″
Laughlin McDonald, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who helped file the suit for the black plaintiffs, said the group was not likely to appeal Freeman’s decision. But he did not rule out the possibility of a challenge to the results of the runoff when attorneys argue the merits of the case before the judge.
Freeman has not set a trial date for the lawsuit.
In his ruling, Freeman noted that the group filed the lawsuit only three months before the Aug. 7 runoff and at least five years after state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, the lead plaintiff, said he had viewed the majority vote requirement as racially discriminatory.
Brooks testified during the hearing that he had considered the requirement discriminatory since 1984.
Freeman said he was sympathetic to testimony that the group was unable to obtain representation earlier, but added, ″The court cannot ignore the timing of the filing of plaintiff’s suit in assessing the equities of this case.″
He also said the group had failed to support its contention that the court would have to call a special election and unseat incumbents who were not plurality winners if it later found that the majority vote requirement caused irreparable injury to the plaintiffs.
McDonald said he was not disappointed with today’s ruling.
″We had two purposes,″ he said. ″One was to try to get an injunction to stop the runoff. The second was to make certain we raised a legally valid objection to the use of the runoff. We accomplished half of that.″