A federal judge has found Georgia’s congressional maps unlawful, ruling that they are in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and must be redrawn by early December to ensure that Black voters in the state will be duly represented in the next round of congressional elections.
On Thursday, District Court Judge Steve Jones ruled after a two-week trial that the maps Republicans redrew after the 2020 decennial census illegally reduced the voting power of Black residents in Georgia. Jones ordered the legislature to redraw the congressional boundaries to create “an additional majority-Black congressional district in west-metro Atlanta.”
Jones’s order also examined districts at the state legislative level, and ordered lawmakers to redraw maps to create two more majority-Black state Senate districts, as well as five more House districts in which Black voters would be the majority.
“Black voters in Georgia…have suffered significant harm” due to Georgia’s map-drawing, Jones said. “Those citizens are entitled to vote as soon as possible for their representatives under a lawful apportionment plan.”
Jones imposed a deadline of December 8 for maps to be redrawn so they can be ready for the 2024 congressional races. In response to the ruling, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) called a special session of the state legislature to begin on November 29, in order to create maps by the deadline.
There’s a high chance that officials in Georgia — whether from Kemp’s office or from the state legislature — could appeal the decision, which has the potential to extend Jones’s deadline.
If an appeals process begins, it’s possible it could mirror a case in the neighboring state of Alabama, where a court similarly found maps drawn by Republicans in violation of the VRA. Alabama appealed that decision all the way to the Supreme Court, which, in a somewhat surprising decision, upheld the lower courts’ findings and ordered the legislature to create two additional congressional districts where Black residents made up the majority, or close to it.
In a brazen attempt to thwart the High Court’s ruling, Alabama drew maps that didn’t create two additional majority-Black districts. An appellate court ruled that the legislature had again acted unlawfully, and ordered a special master to draw up maps instead, which the court subsequently approved.
In his ruling on Thursday, Jones noted that it wouldn’t be difficult for Georgia lawmakers to meet the deadline — they had, after all, created the current maps under a similarly short timeframe.
“The General Assembly enacted the Plans quickly in 2021” to produce the unconstitutional boundaries that currently exist, Jones wrote, adding that the legislature was informed almost two years ago that new maps might be needed.
Jones went on to say that he would take action on his own if the state legislature refused to follow his order and instead, like the Alabama state legislature, produced a map that still violated the VRA, writing that:
This timeline balances the relevant equities and serves the public interest by providing the General Assembly with its rightful opportunity to craft a remedy…while also ensuring that, if an acceptable remedy is not produced, there will be time for the Court to fashion one — as the Court will not allow another election cycle on redistricting plans that the Court has determined on a full trial record to be unlawful.
In the concluding remarks in his ruling, Jones noted that “Georgia has made great strides since 1965 towards equality in voting.”
“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,” he added.
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