Georgia Redistricting Maps on Trial in Federal Court

Dave Williams

Friday, September 8th, 2023

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A federal court began hearing legal challenges Tuesday to congressional and legislative redistricting maps the General Assembly’s Republican majorities drew two years ago based on the 2020 Census.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU’s Georgia chapter sued the state early last year, claiming the maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act by denying Black Georgians an equal opportunity to participate in the political process by electing candidates of their choice.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones dismissed the cases in March 2022 but only because the May primaries were approaching and he considered it too close to change the maps before voters went to the polls.

In July of this year, the same judge rejected a bid by the state for a summary judgement dismissing the suits and ruled the cases may move forward.

Georgia’s Black population during the last decade increased by 13%, according to the census, while the state’s white population declined by 1%. The two suits argue Republican state lawmakers failed to draw district boundaries that reflect those demographic changes.

According to the plaintiffs, the General Assembly 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.

Georgia Republicans added one seat to their majority in the state’s congressional delegation last year by redrawing the district of U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs into heavily Republican Forsyth, Dawson, and Cherokee counties. As a result, McBath ran and won in an adjacent district then served by fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Lawrenceville.

“When districts are drawn to minimize the voices of Black voters in Georgia, it damages our democracy,” said Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff attorney for the ACLU of Georgia. “We look forward to presenting our case at trial.”

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

“Georgia’s maps are fair and adhere to traditional principles of redistricting,” GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said last year when the lawsuits first came up in federal court. “I look forward to defending them.”

Voting rights advocates also are challenging redistricting maps drawn by Republican lawmakers in other states. On Tuesday, a three-judge federal court panel in Alabama indicated they will have a special master draw a new congressional map for that state after twice rejecting maps drawn by Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature.

In Georgia, a ruling against the state could force the General Assembly into a special session this fall to redraw the congressional and legislative maps.