Georgia congressional maps violate the Voting Rights Act, judge rules

Elijah Nouvelage

A federal judge in Atlanta ruled Thursday that Georgia’s redrawn congressional maps violate the Voting Rights Act and gave the state's lawmakers until Dec. 8 to submit new ones.

"In the event that the State is unable or unwilling to enact remedial plans by December 8, 2023, that satisfy the requirements set forth above, the Court will proceed to draw or adopt remedial plans" so they'll be ready in time for the 2024 elections, U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones wrote in his 516-page ruling.

He added that he "is confident that the General Assembly can accomplish its task" but that the "Court will not allow another election cycle on redistricting plans that the Court has determined on a full trial record to be unlawful."

The maps were approved by the Georgia General Assembly in 2021 and immediately faced a flurry of lawsuits from critics who said they diminished the minorities' voting power.

In his ruling, Jones said the plaintiffs had demonstrated a “lack of equal openness in Georgia’s election system as a result of the challenged redistricting plans.”

"After conducting a thorough and sifting review of the evidence in this case, the Court finds that the State of Georgia violated the Voting Rights Act when it enacted its congressional and legislative maps," he wrote.

"The Court commends Georgia for the great strides that it has made to increase the political opportunities of Black voters in the 58 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Despite these great gains, the Court determines that in certain areas of the State, the political process is not equally open to Black voters," he wrote.

Jones cited as an example that "in the past decade, all of Georgia’s population growth was attributable to the minority population, however, the number of majority-Black congressional and legislative districts remained the same."

Shortly after the ruling, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, called a special session of the General Assembly for Nov. 29 to draw new congressional and legislative maps.

It's unclear whether the state will appeal. A spokesperson for state Attorney General Chris Carr's office said, "We are currently reviewing the order and still analyzing all legal options."

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office declined to comment.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the leader of Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement that the decision “reaffirms what so many of us already knew, that extremists in our own Legislature did indeed illegally map out the congressional and legislative districts to weaken the vote of Georgia’s Black voters.”

Rep. Nikema Williams, the chair of the state Democratic Party, called the ruling "a resounding victory for Georgia voters and for democracy."

She said in a statement that the decision “confirms what Georgia Democrats already knew: Georgia Republicans’ attempts to hold onto power via voter suppression and racial gerrymandering will not stand."

The decision comes just months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar ruling regarding Alabama’s congressional maps.

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