A federal judge has struck down Georgia’s political district maps and ordered state lawmakers to redraw them by Dec. 8, in a win for voting rights activists who argued that the state’s maps dilute the power of Black voters.
In a ruling issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote that Georgia’s congressional and state legislative maps, which were redrawn by Republican lawmakers in 2021, violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and that Black voters in Georgia have “suffered significant harm.” The 2021 maps also cannot be used in any future elections.
“The Court reiterates that Georgia has made great strides since 1965 towards equality in voting,” Jones wrote. “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.”
According to the ruling, the redrawn congressional map must include one additional majority-Black district in west metro Atlanta. The redrawn state legislature maps must include two additional majority-Black state Senate districts and five additional majority-Black state House districts.
Asked about the ruling Thursday, a representative for Georgia Attorney General Christopher M. Carr’s (R) office said it was reviewing the order.
Gov. Brian Kemp (R) announced Thursday afternoon that he was calling for the Georgia General Assembly to convene a special session beginning Nov. 29 to redraw the maps.
The ruling in Georgia is the latest in a string of legal challenges to state maps across the country after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Black voters in Alabama and ordered maps in that state to be redrawn. Earlier this month, a panel of three federal judges chose a new Alabama congressional map that establishes another near-Black-majority district that could flip a House seat in the state for Democrats in 2024.
Judges are weighing the legality of congressional maps in about a dozen states. The cases in federal and state courts reflect a pushback against aggressive gerrymandering, much of it in states controlled by Republicans. Most of the cases would, if successful, give Democrats an opportunity to gain seats where they would be favored to win — and potentially give them an opportunity to retake the majority in the House in 2024.
In his ruling Thursday, Jones wrote that the court was “confident” the Georgia General Assembly could redraw the maps by Dec. 8, since it had acted quickly in 2021 — and because it has been aware since these legal challenges started nearly two years ago that new maps might be necessary.
“The General Assembly already has access to an experienced cartographer; and the General Assembly has an illustrative remedial plan to consult,” the ruling states.
According to the ruling, the court will decide if the redrawn maps appropriately remedy the situation. In the event the state is “unable or unwilling” to redraw the maps by the Dec. 8 deadline, the court will draw or adopt remedial plans.
The ruling is likely to favor Democrats, who lost a House seat last year after Republican lawmakers redrew the maps in 2021. Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, on Thursday called the ruling “a resounding victory” for democracy.
“Two years ago, Georgia Republicans hastily redrew our state’s maps to give themselves a significant advantage and minimize the voting power of Black voters. Republicans knew they couldn’t win on their ideas, so they resorted to redrawing the maps in their favor instead,” Williams said in a statement. “Today’s decision confirms what Georgia Democrats already knew: Georgia Republicans’ attempts to hold on to power via voter suppression and racial gerrymandering will not stand.”
Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, who defended the Voting Rights Act under the Obama administration, said the ruling was “a significant step toward equal representation for all voters.”
“These maps are textbook violations of Section 2 and the court has fairly applied the law as it is written to protect the equal rights of citizens and to stop blatant attempts to diminish those rights,” Holder said in a statement issued by the National Redistricting Foundation, which targets gerrymandering by Republican-led legislatures and initiated legal challenges to the Georgia maps in 2021.
“Gerrymandering has denied Black Georgia voters fair representation — and that will soon change,” Holder added. “We fight on in Georgia and everywhere where American democracy is under attack.”
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.