ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed new maps for Georgia’s congressional delegation, state Senate and state House into law, resulting in at least two immediate lawsuits challenging the maps, even as candidates gear up to run under the new lines.
The new districts are designed to increase the number of Republicans in Georgia’s 14-member congressional delegation from eight to nine, turning the suburban Atlanta 6th District now held by Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath into a strongly Republican district. McBath has already announced that she’s jumping to the new 7th District in Gwinnett and Fulton counties, which was made much more Democratic, to mount a primary challenge against fellow Democratic U.S. Rep Carolyn Bourdeaux.
The state Senate map is projected to keep 59%, or 33, of the Senate’s 56 seats in GOP hands. That’s down from 34 right now. The state House map is projected to keep 54% of House seats, or 98 of 180, in Republican hands. That’s down from 103 Republicans now.
The Republican Kemp’s decision to delay signing the maps reduces the amount of time for a lawsuit before candidates qualify in March and voting begins in advance of the May 24 party primaries. The short period could allow the state to ask a judge to delay a decision until after the 2022 elections are run under the maps Kemp signed.
Democrats say the new lines, especially for Congress and the state Senate, grab too much power for Republicans, considering President Joe Biden carried Georgia with a narrow majority last year and two Democratic senators won seats in January.
Critics also allege that the maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act by unnecessarily dividing minority populations, especially because nonwhite people make up most of the new Georgians added in the past decade.
Democratic lawyer Marc Elias sued in federal court in Atlanta over the congressional map on behalf of six voters. The suit claims the lines are unconstitutional because they dilute Black voting strength by not drawing as many Black-majority state Senate and House districts as possible.
Particularly, the suit contends lawmakers should have drawn an additional Black majority district centered on Cobb and Douglas counties, instead of packing many Black voters into some districts and cracking other Black population concentrations among multiple Republican-dominated districts.
“The General Assembly could have instead created an additional, compact congressional district in which Black voters, including Plaintiffs, comprise a majority of eligible voters and have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates,” the suit states.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court on behalf of the historically Black Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church covering Georgia, and several individual voters.
The suit challenges three Senate districts — District 16 in part of Fayette and all of Spalding, Pike and Lamar counties; District 17 in parts of Henry, Newton and Walton counties and all of Morgan County; and District 23, which includes parts of Richmond and Columbia counties as well as all of 11 other east Georgia counties.
The ACLU alleges that majority Republicans erred only by drawing as many majority-minority districts in the Senate as it started with, not recognizing the growing number and share of Black voters in the state.
“The state drew maps that systematically impede the growth of Black communities’ political power,” lawyers wrote.
The lawsuit also argues that at least five more majority-Black state House districts could have been drawn, including at least three in Atlanta’s southern and eastern suburbs, at least one more around Augusta, and at least one more in southwest Georgia.
Both suits name Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as a defendant, even though he didn’t draw the district lines, because he is the state’s chief elections officer. The congressional suit also lists State Election Board members as defendants.
The U.S. Supreme Court in the last decade has ruled out challenges based on partisan gerrymandering. But although the court struck down the requirement that Georgia and other areas with a history of racial discrimination get preclearance for new district maps from the U.S. Justice Department, the way remains clear for people to sue in court alleging racial bias after lawmakers pass maps.
Republicans say they were careful to follow the dictates of the Voting Rights Act. They also note that their maps split fewer counties.
Fair Districts Georgia, a group that analyzed the maps with an eye toward preventing gerrymandering, said all three maps would have fewer districts where each party would have a competitive shot at winning than under current lines.
The General Assembly must redraw electoral districts at least once every decade to equalize populations after the U.S. census.