Federal Judge Tosses Georgia Redistricting Maps; Governor Calls Special Session

Dave Williams

Friday, October 27th, 2023

Capitol Beat is a nonprofit news service operated by the Georgia Press Educational Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Georgia. For more information visit capitol-beat.org.

A federal judge Thursday rejected both the congressional and legislative redistricting maps Georgia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly drew two years ago and ordered new maps prepared in time for next year’s elections.

Facing a Dec. 8 deadline U.S. District Judge Steve Jones set for redrawing the maps, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp issued an order calling a special session of the legislature to begin Nov. 29.

In a 516-page ruling, Jones sided with civil rights and voting rights groups that claimed in three lawsuits that the maps violated the federal Voting Rights Act by denying Black Georgians an equal opportunity to participate in the political process by electing candidates of their choice.

“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,” Jones wrote. “Despite these great gains, the court determines that in certain areas of the state, the political process is not equally open to Black voters.”

Jones cited the 2020 Census, which found that all of Georgia’s population growth during the last decade was attributable to the increase in minority residents. Yet, the number of majority Black congressional and legislative districts remained the same.

According to the plaintiffs, Georgia lawmakers should have drawn three new state Senate and five new state House districts that would have provided Black voters an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Instead, the GOP lost only two seats in the House and one in the Senate in last year’s elections.

Thursday’s ruling agreed with the plaintiffs by ordering the General Assembly to draw five additional Black majority seats in the Georgia House and came close to the plaintiffs’ arguments by ordering an additional two Black majority state Senate seats.

“In 2021, the General Assembly ignored Georgia’s diversification over the last decade and enacted a state legislative map that demonstrably diluted the voting strength of Black voters,” said Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff director at the ACLU of Georgia, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “Today’s decision charts a path to correct that grave injustice before the 2024 election cycle. The General Assembly should now move swiftly to enact a remedial map that fairly represents Black voters.”

Georgia Republicans added one seat to their majority in the state’s congressional delegation in the November midterm elections after redrawing the district of U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs into heavily Republican Forsyth, Dawson, and Cherokee counties. McBath responded by running for and winning an adjacent seat in a Democratic-leaning district.

“Congresswoman McBath applauds the court for upholding the principles of fair and equal representation,” Jake Orvis, McBath’s campaign manager, said in a statement issued immediately following Thursday’s ruling. “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.” 

Republicans countered that they followed the law in redrawing the maps after the 2020 Census.

On Thursday, a Republican voter mobilization group headed by former GOP U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler criticized the decision.

“Today’s ruling by the Obama-appointed U.S. District Court judge is a disappointing but unsurprising victory for liberal activists attempting to interfere in next year’s elections,” said Loeffler, chairwoman of Greater Georgia. “Greater Georgia expects a successful appeal and that partisan efforts to undermine our state’s legislative and congressional races ahead of 2024 will be dismissed.”

The executive order Kemp signed scheduling the special session said the governor also will ask the General Assembly to ratify orders he issued in each of the last two months suspending the state sales tax on gasoline.

About Dave Williams

Dave Williams has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1999 and for several years before that, covered Georgia’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. He began his career in radio news in Florida and Upstate New York.