Georgia’s congressional map violates Voting Rights Act, court finds

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A federal court on Thursday found that Georgia’s congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act, the latest Southern state to have its map struck down for discriminating against Black voters.

A judge ordered the state legislature to redraw the lines by early December. The ruling will likely be appealed by Georgia Republicans. It could lead to the creation of an additional majority-Black district in the state — although the immediate partisan effects aren’t clear.

“Georgia has made great strides since 1965 towards equality in voting,” district court Judge Steve C. Jones, a Barack Obama appointee, said in his decision. “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.”

Jones’ lengthy opinion said Black voters’ power had been diluted following extensive population growth in the state that has been disproportionately powered by Black residents. The remedy, he ordered, should involve the creation of “an additional majority-Black congressional district in west-metro Atlanta.”

He gave the GOP-controlled state legislature until Dec. 8 to enact a new map that complies with the Voting Rights Act by giving more power to Black voters there. If the state “is unable or unwilling to” do so, the court will draw the lines.

The state’s current delegation has 9 Republicans and 5 Democrats after the latest round of redistricting. That was a one-seat GOP gain from before the decennial redistricting process, in which Republican mapmakers effectively dismantled two rapidly diversifying suburban Atlanta seats to make one safe Democratic seat based in Gwinnett County and a deep-red district to its north.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the creation of a new majority-Black district would create an additional Democratic one; four out of the five Democratic districts are currently majority-Black, but Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-Ga.) is not. (McBath is Black.) It may be possible to make another majority-Black district west of Atlanta without shifting the overall partisan balance of the state’s districts.

“While the outcome of the process remains unclear, one thing is certain: Rep. McBath will not be letting Republicans in the state legislature determine when her work serving Georgians is done,” Jake Orvis, McBath’s campaign manager, said in a statement following the ruling.

Jones also ruled that the state House and state Senate map also violated the Voting Rights Act, saying they too must be redrawn.

The order is just the latest finding that a Southern state’s Republican-drawn congressional map illegally weakened the power of Black voters. The Supreme Court affirmed a lower court order earlier this year that found that Alabama needed to create a second predominantly Black district. A court-drawn map was imposed there earlier this month after the GOP-dominated legislature refused to draw lines that would do so.

A similar challenge to Louisiana’s map is ongoing and may resolve before the 2024 election.

Earlier this week, North Carolina Republicans redrew their congressional lines in a particularly efficient partisan gerrymander that could flip as many as four seats there. Immediately following its passage, Democrats suggested that it, too, was a racial gerrymander and that they would challenge it. But it isn’t clear how successful their case would be — and any challenge to those lines would be unlikely to resolve before the 2024 election.

Nicholas Wu and Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.

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