Georgia Republicans must redraw congressional and state legislative maps to give Black voters in the state a fair shot at electing the candidate of their choice, a federal judge ruled on Thursday in a decision that could result in an additional Democratic seat in Congress.
When Georgia Republicans drew the state’s 14 congressional districts last year, they placed the lines in such a way that they weakened the influence of Black voters in the west metro-Atlanta area, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Judge Steve Jones ruled on Thursday.
Jones gave Georgia lawmakers until 8 December to draw an additional majority-Black district in the west metro-Atlanta area, and said the court would draw a map if the legislature could not come up with a new plan by then. Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, a Republican, on Thursday called for a special session of the legislature to convene on 29 November to redraw the districts.
Georgia is likely to appeal the ruling and to try to drag out the redrawing process as long as possible. A lengthy legal dispute is to the state’s advantage because federal courts have been hesitant to intervene when elections are close.
Republicans currently have a 9-5 advantage in Georgia’s congressional delegation. Since voting in the south of the US is often racially polarized, any district that gives Black voters a chance to elect the candidate of their choosing is likely to favor Democrats.
Republicans also have a 102-78 advantage in the state house of representatives, where Jones ordered the addition of five majority-Black seats. They also have 33-23 advantage in the state senate, where Jones ordered two additional majority-Black seats.
Georgia gained an additional seat in Congress last year after significant population growth over the last decade. Almost all of that growth was due to a surging minority population in the state, Jones noted in a 516-page opinion, but the number of majority-Black congressional and legislative districts remained the same.
“The Court reiterates that Georgia has made great strides since 1965 towards equality in voting,” Jones wrote in his ruling. “However, the evidence before this Court shows that Georgia has not reached the point where the political process has equal openness and equal opportunity for everyone.”
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case praised the ruling as vindicating Black voters.
“In 2021, the general assembly ignored Georgia’s diversification over the last decade and enacted a state legislative map that demonstrably diluted the voting strength of Black voters,” said Rahul Garabadu, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented some of the challengers in the case. “Today’s decision charts a path to correct that grave injustice before the 2024 election cycle. The general assembly should now move swiftly to enact a remedial map that fairly represents Black voters.”
The ruling is the latest in a series from federal courts in recent months finding that Republicans, who dominate state legislatures in the south and control the redistricting process, discriminated against Black voters when they drew district lines.
Judges have also ordered Republicans in Alabama and Louisiana to reconfigure their maps to add districts that give Black voters adequate power. There is also ongoing litigation in South Carolina and Florida claiming district lines illegally minimize the influence of Black voters.
Alabama was ordered to accept a remedial map after going to extraordinary lengths to refuse to comply with a supreme court order. Louisiana Republicans have used the legal process to try to slow down its obligation to redraw the lines.
North Carolina Republicans enacted a new congressional map that seeks to offset some of those new, likely Democratic seats. The new North Carolina congressional plan would add at least three new Republican seats in Congress, a critical addition as Republicans prepare to defend a five-seat majority in the US House next fall.
The configuration of Georgia’s congressional districts already has had significant political effects for Democrats, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted. When Republicans redrew the districts, they made the suburban Atlanta district represented by Lucy McBath, a Black Democrat, much more Republican friendly. McBath ran in a neighboring district instead and defeated Representative Carolyn Bordeaux.
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