ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that some of Georgia’s congressional, state Senate and state House districts were drawn in a racially discriminatory manner, ordering the state to draw an additional Black-majority congressional district.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, in a 516-page order, also ordered the state to draw two new Black-majority districts in Georgia’s 56-member state Senate and five new Black-majority districts in its 180-member state House.
Jones ordered Georgia’s Republican majority General Assembly and governor to take action before Dec. 8, saying he wouldn’t permit 2024 elections to go forward under the current maps. That would require a special session, as lawmakers aren’t scheduled to meet again until January.
Jones’ ruling follows a September trial in which the plaintiffs argued that Black voters are still fighting opposition from white voters and need federal help to get a fair shot, while the state argued court intervention on behalf of Black voters wasn’t needed.
The move could shift one of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats from Republican to Democratic control. GOP lawmakers redrew the congressional map from an 8-6 Republican majority to a 9-5 Republican majority in 2021.
The Georgia case is part of a wave of litigation after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year stood behind its interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, rejecting a challenge to the law by Alabama.
Courts in Alabama and Florida ruled recently that Republican-led legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of Black residents. Legal challenges to congressional districts are also ongoing in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Orders to draw new legislative districts could narrow Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. But on their own, those changes are unlikely to lead to a Democratic takeover.
Jones wrote that he conducted a “thorough and sifting review” of the evidence in the case before concluding that Georgia violated the Voting Rights Act in enacting the current congressional and legislative maps.
He wrote that he “commends Georgia for the great strides that it has made to increase the political opportunities of Black voters in the 58 years” since that law was passed in 1965. But despite those gains, he determined that “in certain areas of the State, the political process is not equally open to Black voters.”
But Jones noted that despite the fact that all of the state’s population growth over the last decade was attributable to the minority population, the number of congressional and legislative districts with a Black majority remained the same.
That echoes a key contention of the plaintiffs, who argued repeatedly that the state added nearly 500,000 Black residents between 2010 and 2020 but drew no new Black-majority state Senate districts and only two additional Black-majority state House districts. They also said Georgia should have another Black majority congressional district.