Republicans in Georgia violated a key civil rights law in drawing voting maps that diluted the power of black voters, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled Thursday, ordering new maps to be drawn for the 2024 elections.
Judge Steve C. of the Northern District of Georgia. Jones demanded that the state’s legislature move quickly to draw congressional and general assembly districts that would provide an equal level of representation to blacks who make up more than one-third of the state’s population.
In the ruling, Judge Jones wrote, “the Court will not allow another election cycle in redistricting plans” that were found to be illegal.
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, responded Thursday to a special session of the Georgia General Assembly that begins Nov. 29, giving lawmakers 10 days to meet the Dec. 8 deadline set by Judge Jones.
The deadline, Judge Jones wrote, ensures that “if an acceptable settlement is not produced, the court will have time to shape it.”
Georgia is one of several southern states where Republicans are defending congressional maps that federal judges have said discriminate against black voters. Republican officials attacked the ruling; State party leader Josh McCune described it in a statement as a “bare-handed power grab”.
“For a far-left federal judge to invalidate the will of Georgia’s elected representatives is simply outrageous,” he said, “who drew fair maps consistent with longstanding legal principles.”
Challenges to these maps were spurred by a Supreme Court ruling in June that found race could play a role in redistricting — a surprise decision that upheld a key tenet of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the federal legislative achievement of civil rights. A movement that has otherwise been largely destroyed by the court’s conservative majority in recent years.
As part of the regular redistricting process that takes place every decade after the census, Georgia Republicans have tried to reduce Democratic influence by dividing key electorates into different districts.
For example, two heavily black suburbs were moved from a district represented by Rep. David Scott, a black Democrat, to the district of hard-line Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.
But in doing so, Judge Jones found that Georgia violated the Voting Rights Act by apportioning statehouse districts that reduced the power of black voters on the state congressional map.
“Georgia has made great strides toward voting equality since 1965,” Justice Jones wrote. “However, the evidence before this court shows that Georgia has not reached a point where the political process is equally transparent and has equal opportunity for all.”
The redistricting plans came as Democrats gained new ground in once reliably Republican Georgia. Although Republicans maintain a tight grip on state government, voters in 2020 elected a Democrat to the presidency and two Democrats to the Senate for the first time since 1992, ousting Republican incumbents.
Black voters were a driving force in the growth of Georgia’s electorate, which increased by 1.9 million voters between 2000 and 2019. A Pew Research Center analysis found.
In legal challenges to the maps, critics argued that the size of the state’s black electorate warranted at least one additional majority-black district in Congress, as well as additional majority-black districts in the state House of Representatives.
Also arguing in the challenges are Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the nation’s oldest black fraternity with thousands of members, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest black-founded Protestant denominations in Georgia with hundreds of congregations.
“Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, it is unfortunate that we still have to protect and promote the voting rights of the African American community,” said Presiding Bishop Reginald D. Jackson said in a statement Thursday.
Appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, Judge Jones had allowed The challenged maps will take effect in 2022, calling it a “difficult decision” that “the court did not take lightly.” That decision was one of several that found it too close to elections that year to implement new maps.
Republicans argued that there was ample evidence to show that black voters retained equal influence in the state, pointing to the victory of Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and the state’s first black U.S. senator, and Representative Lucy McBath, a Democrat. Republican-held seat among others. (When Ms. McBath saw her district reshuffled in favor of Republicans, she successfully challenged another Democrat, Representative Carolyn Bordeaux, for another suburban Atlanta seat.)
But the Supreme Court’s surprise decision to uphold Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act had implications for Georgia as well, when Alabama admitted it had illegally diluted the power of its black electorate.
With control of the House held by a narrow Republican majority, redrawing a few districts in the South could flip control of the chamber. The court also said that the Legislature should redraw its state map.
The decision in Georgia can be appealed. Republicans in other states sought to pursue lawsuits and avoid new maps that were not politically favorable to their incumbents.