Georgia voting maps discriminate against Black voters, judge rules

Federal judge orders state lawmakers to redraw maps that violate the Voting Rights Act

Alex Woodward
Thursday 26 October 2023 19:40 BST
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Maps drawing the boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts in Georgia violate the Voting Rights Act and must be redrawn, a federal judge has ruled.

The 516-page order from US District Judge Steve C Jones in Atlanta strikes down the maps for discriminating against Black voters and orders state lawmakers to draft new ones by 8 December.

Judge Jones’ decision on 26 October ordered the creation of one new congressional district with a majority-Black voting population, as well as two new majority-Black state senate districts and five new majority-Black state House districts.

His order marks a victory for Black voters and voting rights advocates in the state, following a string of federal court decisions and cases surrounding discriminatory maps and illegal gerrymanders in several states.

New maps in Georgia also mean that voters are likely to elect a new Democratic representative to the US House of Representatives in 2024 elections.

The decision also could reshape the state’s general assembly, which currently is dominated by a Republican majority in both the House and Senate.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of civil rights and religious organisations in the state argued that Black residents, who fuelled the state’s population growth over the last decade, were inadequately represented politically in both the state’s general assembly and in Congress.

“The Court reiterates that Georgia has made great strides since 1965 towards equality in voting,” Judge Jones wrote. “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.”

The state legislature has “been on notice since at least the time that this litigation was commenced nearly 22 months ago that new maps might be necessary,” the judge wrote.

“The General Assembly already has access to an experienced cartographer ... and the General Assembly has an illustrative remedial plan to consult,” he added.

Federal courts will determine whether the redrawn maps satisfy the order, but in the event that state officials are “unable or unwilling” to meet the 8 December deadline, the courts will take the matter out of their hands, according to the judge’s order.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other parties in the case are likely to appeal, but the US Supreme Court already has rejected similar attempts to preserve gerrymandered political maps in Alabama within the last year.

Earlier this month, a federal court in Alabama selected a new congressional map that will significantly increase Black voting power in the state and likely flip one of the state’s seats to a Democratic representative.

A decision in a case that reached the Supreme Court last year maintained the state’s sole district with a majority Black voting population – currently represented by Democratic US Rep Terry Sewell, the state’s only Black member of Congress – and ordered the creation of a second district with a Black voting age population of just under 49 per cent.

Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the Voting Rights Project at the ACLU, which filed the Georgia lawsuit, said the ruling marks a victory for “anyone who believes voting should be fair”.

“This decision confirms that Black voters were illegally shut out of political opportunities in the state,” she said in a statement. “The court’s ruling is a vital step in ensuring that Black Georgians can participate in the political process on equal terms.”

Bishop Reginald T Jackson of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, among the plaintiffs in the case, said the decision “corrects a wrong perpetrated upon the citizens of Georgia and Black citizens in particular”.

“It ensures that the vote of every citizen in Georgia counts and that Black citizens and communities in Georgia have the appropriate representation in Congress and State Houses,” he added.

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