Thursday, October 26, 2023

Georgia’s Voting Maps Are Struck Down. (NY Times)

Georgia's state legislature has been ordered to draw new maps.  Judge Jones is right.  From The New York Times:  

Georgia’s Voting Maps Are Struck Down

Republicans in the state violated a landmark civil rights law in drawing maps that diluted the power of Black voters, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled.

People stand in a line along a pathway, with a sign in the foreground reading “Vote here today.”
People lined up at a polling station in Atlanta to vote in a runoff election in December 2022.Credit...Dustin Chambers for The New York Times
People stand in a line along a pathway, with a sign in the foreground reading “Vote here today.”

Republicans in Georgia violated a landmark civil rights law in drawing voting maps that diluted the power of Black voters, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled on Thursday, ordering that new maps must be drawn in time for the 2024 elections.

Judge Steve C. Jones of the Northern District of Georgia demanded that the state’s legislature move swiftly to draw new maps that provide an equitable level of representation for Black residents, who make up more than a third of the state’s population.

In the ruling, Judge Jones wrote that the court “will not allow another election cycle on redistricting plans” that had been found to be unlawful.

“Georgia has made great strides since 1965 towards equality in voting,” Judge Jones wrote, referring to a troubled history of racism and disregard for voting and civil rights. “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.”

Georgia is one of several Southern states where Republicans are defending congressional maps that federal judges have said appear to discriminate against Black voters.

The challenges to these maps were invigorated by a Supreme Court ruling in June that found that race could play a role in redistricting — a surprise decision that upheld the key remaining tenet of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a central legislative achievement of the civil rights movement that has otherwise been largely gutted by the court’s conservative majority in recent years.

Judge Jones set a deadline of Dec. 8 for the State Legislature to create new maps. The timeline, he wrote, ensures that “if an acceptable remedy is not produced, there will be time for the court to fashion one.”

As part of the regular redistricting process that happens each decade after the census, Georgia Republicans had sought to water down Democratic influence by separating key blocs of voters into different districts.

A man stands at a lectern next to a large paper map showing proposed Georgia Senate districts.
Legislators debated the state’s voting maps during a special session of the Georgia Senate in 2021.Credit...Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press
A man stands at a lectern next to a large paper map showing proposed Georgia Senate districts.

Two predominately Black suburbs, for example, were moved out of a district represented by Representative David Scott, a Black Democrat, and into that of the hard-line Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.

But in doing so, Judge Jones found that Georgia had violated the Voting Rights Act by undercutting the power of Black voters in the state’s congressional map and its division of statehouse districts.

The redistricting plans came as Democrats had gained new ground in Georgia, which had once been reliably Republican. The state in 2020 elected a Democrat for president for the first time since 1992, and two Democrats to the Senate, ousting Republican incumbents. But Republicans have maintained a tight grip on state government.

Black voters were a driving force in that transformation, making up the highest share of growth in the Georgia electorate, which increased by 1.9 million voters between 2000 and 2019, a Pew Research Center analysis found.

In the legal challenges to the maps, critics argued that the size of the Black electorate in the state warranted at least one additional majority-Black district in Congress, as well as additional majority-Black districts in the State House of Representatives.

One of the plaintiffs in the challenges is Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the nation’s oldest Black fraternity, which has thousands of members in Georgia.

Judge Jones, an Obama administration appointeehad allowed the challenged maps to go into effect in 2022, calling it a “difficult decision” that “the court did not make lightly.” That decision was one of several that found it was too close to that year’s elections to implement new maps.

Republicans had argued that there was ample evidence to show that Black voters retained an equal influence in the state, pointing to the success of Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and the state’s first Black U.S. senator, and Representative Lucy McBath, a Democrat who flipped a Republican-held seat, among others. (When Ms. McBath saw her district redrawn to overwhelmingly favor Republicans, she successfully challenged another Democratic representative, Carolyn Bourdeaux, in a different suburban Atlanta seat.)

But the Supreme Court’s unexpected decision to uphold Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, when it agreed that Alabama had illegally diluted the power of its Black voters, has also had implications for Georgia.

With control of the House hinging on a narrow Republican majority, it is possible that redrawing just a few districts in the South could flip control of the chamber. The court also said that the legislature needed to redraw its state map.

The decision in Georgia could be appealed. Republicans in other states have sought to draw out litigation and avoid new maps that are less politically favorable to their incumbents. 

Rick Rojas contributed reporting.

Emily Cochrane is a national reporter for The Times covering the American South, based in Nashville. More about Emily Cochrane

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