ATLANTA (AP) — For Georgia Democrats who didn’t get what they want out of a special legislative session to redraw voting districts, their retort Thursday was simple: “We’ll see you in court.” State lawmakers on Thursday completed a special session with the House voting 98-71 to give final passage to a congressional map that preserves […]
Georgia lawmakers send redrawn congressional map keeping 9-5 Republican edge to judge for approval
ATLANTA (AP) — For Georgia Democrats who didn’t get what they want out of a special legislative session to redraw voting districts, their retort Thursday was simple: “We’ll see you in court.”
State lawmakers on Thursday completed a special session with the House voting 98-71 to give final passage to a congressional map that preserves a 9-5 edge for Republicans in Georgia’s congressional delegation to Washington, while creating a court-ordered Black-majority district on the west side of metro Atlanta and sharply transforming a congressional district now represented by Democrat Lucy McBath
“This plan adds the required district; it complies with Judge Jones’ order,” said House Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee Chairman Rob Leverett, a Republican from Elberton. “It fulfills our obligation as a General Assembly with respect to congressional districts.”
It joins a state House and state Senate map that also would safeguard GOP control of Georgia’s General Assembly. All three districting plans must be signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp before they become law.
But while Kemp would normally have the last word, that won’t be the case this time. Instead, lawyers for the state and those who successfully sued to overturn earlier GOP-drawn maps will be back before U.S. District Judge Steve Jones on Dec. 20.
They’ll argue whether lawmakers’ actions fulfilled Jones’ earlier order, in which he found congressional and legislative districts approved in 2021 illegally diluted the power of Black voters. If Jones disapproves of the maps, he could appoint a special master to redraw them for the court.
“It looks like a virtual certainty that the special master will have the last say,” said Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Stone Mountain Democrat.
Democrats argue that move violates the part of Jones’ order that says lawmakers couldn’t fix the map “by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere.”
The GOP congressional map creates a new majority-Black district in parts of Fulton, Douglas, Cobb and Fayette counties on Atlanta’s west side. But instead of targeting a Republican, it shifts McBath’s current majority nonwhite district in suburban Gwinnett and Fulton counties into a district tailored for current Republican U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, stretching from Atlanta’s northern suburbs into its heavily Republican northern mountains.
“The Republican congressional map eliminated a minority opportunity district in Gwinnett County by obliterating Georgia’s 7th Congressional District,” said House Minority Whip Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat. “It is self-evident that the Republican Party’s primary goal is to maintain political power at all costs, to the detriment of Georgia voters, representative democracy and the rule of law.”
Democrats’ arguments revolve around the contention that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act protects districts made up of coalitions of nonwhite voters. They point to a 1990 case from Florida’s Hardee County. Republicans say that Jones’ order only protects majority-Black districts.
“They’re interpreting it narrowly, to mean only majority-Black districts, and that’s not the law,” said Kareem Crayton, who studies redistricting New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Republicans point to a recent decision by a three-judge panel that included Jones in another Georgia redistricting case that found the words on coalition districts adopted in the 1990 decision on Hardee County by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals were “dicta.” That’s a legal term for words that are not part of a binding precedent.
“The 11th Circuit case that’s being sort of passed around as providing irrefutable support is not that at all,” Leverett said.
Democrats also made a larger argument that Republicans are gerrymandering the maps to preserve their own power even though Georgia’s nonwhite population has grown and Democratic support has increased in recent elections.
“It is self-evident that the Republican Party’s primary goal is to maintain political power at all costs, to the detriment of Georgia voters, representative democracy and the rule of law,” Park said.
Republicans, though, say preserving power is not an improper goal, noting the Supreme Court has ruled that partisan gerrymandering is not illegal. They say that it’s Democrats who are improperly using the courts to increase their power.
“The map does not use the Voting Rights Act to achieve political aims,” said Rep. Matt Reeves, a Duluth Republican. “It maintains the partisan balance that this body previously enacted.”
It’s the second time in two years that Republicans have targeted McBath, a gun control activist. McBath, who is Black, initially won election in a majority-white district in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Georgia Republicans in 2021 took that district, once represented by Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and drew it into much more Republican territory. At the same time, they made another district more Democratic. McBath jumped into that district and beat Democratic incumbent Carolyn Bordeaux in a 2022 primary.
“This map blatantly targets my congresswoman, who unironically was also targeted during the 2020-2021 redistricting cycle,” said Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Lilburn Democrat. “While I’m sure the congresswoman is quite flattered by the GOP mapmakers obsession, it is not quite as flattering to the people of our congressional district that find themselves caught in the crossfire.”