The U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia is based in downtown Atlanta. (Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder)
A federal court judge has struck down Georgia’s political maps and blocked the state from using the maps for future elections.
U,S. District Judge Steve C. Jones issued his ruling Thursday after holding a nearly two-week trial last month. Jones concluded that the GOP-drawn maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. That provision of the 1965 law recently survived a test before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jones has ordered the state to draw additional majority Black districts in metro Atlanta and near Macon.
“The remedy involves an additional majority-Black congressional district in west-metro Atlanta; two additional majority-Black Senate districts in south-metro Atlanta; two additional majority-Black House districts in south-metro Atlanta, one additional majority Black House district in west-metro Atlanta, and two additional majority-Black House districts in and around Macon-Bibb,” Jones wrote.
Jones ruled that the Black voters and religious and civil rights groups that filed the lawsuits “carried the burden of demonstrating a lack of equal openness in Georgia’s election system as a result of the challenged redistricting plans.”
The outcome will likely affect the balance of power on the national level – where Republicans hold a fragile majority in the U.S. House – and shrink the already tightening margins under the Gold Dome.
The ruling applies to five congressional districts – including the closely watched 6th District in the northern Atlanta suburbs – as well as 10 state Senate and 11 state House districts.
The 6th District, previously represented by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, was drawn to favor a conservative candidate in 2021 and is now represented by Congressman Rich McCormick. Under the new map, Republicans now hold nine of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats, up from eight under the old map.
Jones ordered state lawmakers to draw up new plans that comply with the Voting Rights Act by Dec. 8.
“This timeline balances the relevant equities and serves the public interest by providing the General Assembly with its rightful opportunity to craft a remedy in the first instance, 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,” Jones wrote in the ruling.
Jones said he was “confident” state lawmakers would be able to create new maps in time, noting the quick turnaround for the 2021 maps and legislators’ access to “an experienced cartographer” and proposed alternative boundary lines.
He also said the “Legislature has been on notice since at least the time this litigation was commenced nearly 22 months ago that new maps might be necessary.”
Jones had concluded in an order early last year that the plaintiffs are “substantially likely” to succeed at showing new majority Black districts can be drawn but said at the time it was too close to the midterm election to make any changes.
This is a developing story. Updated at 12:50 p.m. with directed remedy in the court order.
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