WASHINGTON, D.C. — On March 1, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia declined to block Georgia’s new legislative and congressional maps for the 2022 election cycle. Three lawsuits challenging the new districts — Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. v. Raffensperger, Pendergrass v. Raffensperger and Grant v. Raffensperger — had sought preliminary injunctions against the maps, which they argue dilute the voting strength of Black voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. After holding a six-day hearing where witnesses and experts offered hours of testimony, the judge concluded that “the plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to ultimately prove that certain aspects of the State’s redistricting plans are unlawful.” However, the judge declined to grant the requested relief after determining that it “is not in the public’s interest because changes to the redistricting maps at this point in the 2022 election schedule are likely to substantially disrupt the election process.” In his opinion, the judge describes how this decision was not made “lightly” given that “the resulting threatened injury of having to vote under those plans cannot be undone.” While the challenged maps will be used for the next election cycle, the three cases are still moving forward and will go to trial; the judge explicitly “cautions that this is an interim, non-final ruling that should not be viewed as an indication of how the Court will ultimately rule on the merits at trial.”
The court found that “there is a substantial likelihood the Enacted Plans violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” The court looked at the past and current voting pattern of Black Georgians to determine that they generally vote cohesively as a bloc and are large and compact enough to constitute majorities in additional congressional and legislative districts. Specifically, the court held “that it is possible to create an additional majority-minority congressional district in the western Atlanta metropolitan area” along with two additional majority-minority state Senate districts and three state House districts.
Despite these findings, the court pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that reinstated Alabama’s congressional map, which had previously been blocked under Section 2, as a sign that injunctive relief should not be granted at this time. Specifically highlighting Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s non-binding concurrence, which stated that he thought it was too close to the election to alter any maps, the judge concluded that “it would be unwise, irresponsible, and against common sense for this Court not to take note of” this recent action.