Judge Steve Jones, an Obama appointee, held that Georgia Republicans “fully complied with this Court’s order requiring the creation of Black-majority districts” and a majority-Black congressional district “in the regions of the State where vote dilution was found.”
Georgia legislators were tasked with adding additional majority-Black seats in the state’s House, Senate and congressional maps, after the existing maps were ruled to have diluted the voting strength of Black voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling stemmed from three lawsuits filed by Black voters.
In his ruling, Jones rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that the newly enacted congressional map both violated the court’s order to redraw and “independently” violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs had argued that the new congressional district to the east of Atlanta was merely a reshuffling of Black voters rather than a remedy to the vote dilution identified by the court, since the new majority-Black district was created at the expense of a minority-opportunity district currently held by Rep. Lucy McBath (D).
Jones found that the state was not confined to making changes only in the districts found to be in the “vote dilution area,” and further ruled that the court’s reference to minority-opportunity districts in its original order “could not refer to any potential coalition district.” Coalition districts are districts where multiple racial minorities combine to make up a majority of the population and together to elect minority-preferred candidates. The court made no “finding that Black voters in Georgia politically join with another minority group or groups and that white voters vote as a bloc to defeat the candidate of choice of that minority coalition,” the order continued.
Regarding the Senate map, the plaintiffs contended that the new Senate districts left the area that diluted Black votes “virtually untouched” and once again simply shuffled around Black voters as opposed to providing a complete remedy of the violations.
Additionally, the voters and groups objecting to the new maps argued that the remedial House map failed to enact remedies benefiting Black voters in specific vote dilution areas in the south-metro portion of Atlanta.
Jones rejected the objections to both maps, disagreeing with the plaintiffs’ assertion that the state was confined to making changes only in the districts found to be in the “vote dilution area,” similar to his ruling regarding the congressional map. The General Assembly could make changes to districts not mentioned in the order to draw new maps in order to satisfy the requirement for additional majority-Black districts, Jones further ruled.
Jones declined to consider the differences between the state’s remedial maps and the plaintiffs’ illustrated maps, ruling that the court cannot intrude upon the domain of the General Assembly.
Democrats in the state and lawyers for the plaintiffs decried the decisions. State Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler (D) asserted that the “Republican maps are an ongoing Voting Rights Act violation” and Ari Savitsky of the ACLU claimed that the maps “don’t provide a complete fix for the injuries to Black voters that we proved in court.”
The decision to uphold the maps means that Republicans’ stranglehold on legislative and congressional power in the state will continue. Republicans will maintain their 9-5 congressional delegation majority, and enjoy a 33-23 majority in the Senate and a 99-81 majority in the House.