Litten v. Wood
The Georgia General Assembly, in 2010, updated the city charter for the City of Roswell by imposing term limits on the mayor and councilmembers in response to a request from Mayor Jere Wood and the council. The new term limits stated that no person elected to three or more four-year terms in the office of mayor shall be eligible for election to the office of mayor. At the time, Mayor Wood was in his fourth term of office. In 2013, Mayor Wood qualified and was elected to his fifth term as mayor. Litten filed an action in 2016 and the city council repeatedly asked the legislature to clarify the city charter, to no avail. Litten filed an application for a writ quo warranto seeking the immediate removal of Mayor Wood.
The trial court held that Litten had standing to file the writ because he was a citizen and a taxpayer within the jurisdiction of the officer in question. The court held that the city charter provision did not make any qualifications or exceptions for when the terms were served, whether they were served consecutively, or were meant to apply prospectively. Mayor Wood argued that the legislature never intended to limit his service as mayor. The court, however, held that even if the testimony of legislators presented by Mayor Wood was relevant, it could not ignore the clear meaning of the text of the charter provision. The court also rejected Mayor Wood's retroactivity argument and held that the charter provision did not impose new obligations on past transactions but merely looked at antecedent facts in determining qualifications in the future. Mayor Wood also made an argument that the charter change should have been precleared by the Department of Justice because it preceded the U.S. Supreme Court's decision invalidating the coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013). The trial court held that multiple courts had considered the same question and all had held that law passed prior to Shelby were still enforceable without further action by the jurisdiction.