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28 October 2016

Federal Judge Doesn't Stop South Fulton Vote, But Leaves Constitutional Questions Unanswered

Supporters of the proposed city of South Fulton claimed a win Monday afternoon, but their victory could ultimately end up as a pyrrhic one.

United States District Court Judge Eleanor Ross refused to stop the 8 November referendum on South Fulton cityhood, saying that Plaintiff John Davis and his attorney Robert Highsmith had failed to meet the "high burden" required for the Court to take such drastic action.

Still, Judge Ross did not address the constitutional questions raised in Mr. Davis' suit, leaving open the possibility that she may ultimately rule the city of South Fulton vote unconstitutional and toss it out.

Kaye Burwell, an attorney for the Fulton County Board of Elections, argued this exact point during the nearly two hour hearing.

Burwell told Judge Ross that a temporary restraining order halting the election was not an appropriate remedy at this time.

"The Court could determine, after the election, that the vote was invalid," Burwell said.

Attorney Highsmith contended that stopping the vote until all legal questions surrounding the proposed city of South Fulton was the best way to proceed.

Since Gov. Deal signed the city of South Fulton legislation into law, a flurry of lawsuits challenging what territory would be included in the proposed municipality as well as disputing who would vote in the referendum.

"Extra-territorial voting dilutes the votes of Mr. Davis and others," Highsmith argued before the Court. "Everyone who is legally allowed to vote will be able to vote whenever there is a legal referendum."

Judge Ross' demeanor on the bench, as she listened to both sides' presentations, was stoic.

While south Fulton residents in the courtroom nodded their heads in agreement, depending on which case they supported, Judge Ross showed no emotion or reaction. She did not give any inclination into how she would rule until it was announced from the bench.

Following the hearing, both opponents and proponents of the city of South Fulton conceded that this issue would be decided at the ballot box.

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves echoed those statements.

"Regardless of the outcome of the vote, I have said from the start that residents should have control over their future," Eaves said. "I have not taken a position on the issue of Cityhood and I encourage residents to go vote."