Lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges constitutionality of Colleton schools map

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - A lawsuit was filed in federal court Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the redistricting plan in Colleton County.

The suit was filed on behalf of the City of Walterboro, Colleton County Council, Colleton County School Board, the Colleton Business Alliance, the Walterboro-Colleton Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Edisto Beach, the Edisto Chamber of Commerce, and Walterboro Mayor William Young Jr.

According to Young, Gov. Nikki Haley passed a law that took four school board members serving in four different districts and put them in two new districts, effectively forcing two of them out of office.

"The leaders of Colleton County are seeking to enjoin the use of the new School Board districts established by Senator Pinckney's bill in May. The plan violates the one person, one vote requirement of the equal protection clause, and it also disenfranchises and dilutes the voting rights of many citizens of Colleton County. We are asking the federal court to enjoin the use of these new districts and adopt a new redistricting plan that complies with the US Constitution and protects the voting rights of Colleton County residents in time for the election in November," said attorney Butch Bowers.

The law was written by state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and passed by the governor last month.

Pinckney is named as a defendant in the suit along with Sens. Chip Campsen, Brad Hutto, John Matthews, and Reps. Robert Brown, Kenneth Hodges, Patsy Knight, and Bakari Sellers.

"The South Carolina House and Senate, and particularly the Colleton County Legislative Delegation, have the duty under state and federal law to redraw the districts for the Colleton County School District Board of Trustees ever 10 years based upon a true and correct enumeration of the county's inhabitants," the suit reads. "[The] Delegation has failed to secure and adopt legislation redistricting the existing districts for the School District Board of Trustees in a matter than cures any malapportionment with disenfranchising and diluting the voting rights of citizens of Colleton County."

The suit asked the court to take jurisdiction over the case and order a permanent injunction as well as award the plaintiffs the cost of redrawing the lines properly and any attorneys' fees incurred.

The school board has asked for the Attorney General to form an opinion on the matter. Until the law question is answered, school board elections can't go forward.

"Senator Pinckney's legislation creating these new districts was nothing more than a gerrymandered retaliation against three School Board members for simply doing their jobs, and it was passed in only nine days with no input from the public or the School Board. That lack of due process is sad and disappointing, but it is nothing new," Bowers said.

In the opinion of the state's Attorney General, the measure pushed through by Pinckney is a forward-looking change that does not have bearing on board members currently in the middle of their terms.

That means, in the Attorney General's opinion, there is no need for special elections based on the newly drawn districts.

"It does not 'remove' incumbent members of the Board from the elected position they currently occupy [and] it is the opinion of this Office that [Pinckney's law] will not affect the upcoming 2014 school board elections," the opinion reads.

As it stands, only District 4's representative will deal with an election in a newly drawn district this year since he is up election in November, based on the opinion of the Attorney General's office.