Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Jones rejected both the Congressional and Legislative district maps that were drawn by Georgia Republicans after the 2020 Census. As a result, a December 8th deadline was set to redraw the maps ahead of the runup to the 2024 elections. Later in the afternoon, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order establishing November 29 as the start of the special session.
“The Court commends Georgia for the great strides that it has made to increase the political opportunities of Black voters in the 58 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Judge Jones wrote. “Despite these great gains, the Court determines that in certain areas of the State, the political process is not equally open to Black voters.”
The ruling could flip one seat in the U.S. House and several more in the Georgia Legislature, which could prove monumental in the midterms as the Peach State is a bonafide battleground state once again.
“Today we celebrate a victory in Georgia,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, in a written statement. “A fair democracy has always been a priority for the Georgia House Democrats as we fought against voter suppression. The federal judgment handed down today validates our need for fair districts- a win that strengthens the voice of all voters. We look forward to a special session where we hope an open and transparent process will result in maps that reflect Georgia and its voters. Our fight will always be for the will of the people-not the will of politicians.”
In an August 2023 interview with Beverly, the Minority Leader predicted if the decision went, it would allow Georgia Democrats to likely gain one seat in the U.S. House. He also added the argument during deliberations that Black people should have the ability to choose up to three Senate seats in the Georgia Legislature. He also predicted the Democrats could pick up five House seats as well.
Jones’s ruling states five of Georgia’s 14 Congressional districts violated the Voting Rights Act, as well as ten of Georgia’s 56 Senate districts and 11 of its 180 House districts. Additionally, ordered lawmakers to create several majority-Black districts in these areas that would result in the following: a Congressional seat in Atlanta’s western suburbs, two State Senate seats in Atlanta’s southern suburbs, two State House seats south of Atlanta, another State House seat west of Atlanta, and two more State House seats near Macon.
“Georgia’s population growth was attributable to the minority population, however, the number of majority-Black congressional and legislative districts remained the same,” Jones wrote in the ruling.
Even though Georgia added more than one million new residents, most of whom relocated to Atlanta, the congressional and legislative maps drawn up by the Republicans did not reflect the current reality. Some say, in an attempt to preserve the power in the Republican party. Those that identify as white and non-Hispanic in Georgia shrank to 50.1%, the lowest on record, a signal that Georgia’s transition to a ethnically diverse state has already happened.
Yet, the maps did not reflect the current reality.
So, how did Georgia arrive at this point?
On December 30, 2021, a coalition of Georgian voters and African-American civil rights and community organizations filed a federal complaint against Georgia’s Secretary of State, challenging the state’s enacted legislative redistricting plans as violating the federal Voting Rights Act. On the behalf of Georgia-based members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, plus the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Eric T. Woods, Janice Stewart, Katie Bailey Glenn and Phil Brown, collectively filed a complaint against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. A portion of the complaint stated the following:
“Yet the new legislative maps for Georgia’s General Assembly, which were rushed through the legislative process in a week and a half, do not account for the growth of Georgia’s Black population. Rather, the new maps systematically minimize the political power of Black Georgians in violation of federal law.
…In light of Georgia’s legacy of racial discrimination against and subordination of its Black population and the ongoing, accumulated effects of that legacy, the State’s maps will prevent Black Georgians from exercising political power on an equal playing field with white Georgians.”ALPHA PHI ALPHA FRATERNITY INC. vs BRAD RAFFENSPERGER
Conversely, the defendants claimed the Voting Rights Act’s inherently race-based remedies weren’t “justified by present conditions and are not congruent and proportional to the exercise of congressional power under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”
And with that, the battle lines were drawn.
Before the new maps were drawn, there were eight Republicans and six Democrats in the U.S. House. After the maps were signed into law, U.S. Representative Lucy McBath was drawn out of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District and was forced to primary former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2022 in the Seventh.
Additionally, Jones’s ruling stated the Court found that there is compelling evidence that Georgia’s recent closure of numerous polling places disproportionately impacts Black voters. He cited the Exact Match and registration list purges in Georgia. Jones concluded that these voting practices are sufficient evidence indicating a disproportionate impact on Black voters.
What are the next steps?
Predictably, the Georgia Republican Party lampooned the decision.
“It is simply outrageous that one far-left federal judge is invalidating the will of the elected representatives of the people of Georgia,” said Josh McKoon, chair of the Georgia Republican Party in a statement the party shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Carl Gilliard, President of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, and a Democrat from Savannah, expressed concern regarding the ruling knowing there would be more fights ahead during the upcoming special session.
“As the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus represents over three million Black and brown residents we will be monitoring the next steps in the process of fair districts,” said Gillard. Our commitment to ensuring the fair representation of all Georgians remains unwavering.”
The battle over redistricting and reapportionment follows the headwinds that were made in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina which saw Republicans leverage the Conservative-leaning United States Supreme Court and pass redistricting maps that cobble majority-Black and ethnic minority districts into areas where it would prove advantageous for the right-wing for upcoming elections this decade.
“Seriously, I hope it’s short and simple,” Georgia State Rep. Dar’Shun Kendrick said of the upcoming special session. “Do what the judge ordered and don’t cause any problems.”
As seen in Alabama and Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina would have to prove the Republicans drew these maps while considering racial animus.
“Our court system could not be more important at a time like this, said Georgia State Senator Elena Parent, a Democrat from Atlanta. “While I am grateful for the lifeline the court system has thrown at us and that the state legislature has the opportunity to rectify this injustice, we should not have to rely on a court or a judge to enforce what is right.”
As a state Senator, I have been championing and sponsoring legislation for 10 years to create an independent redistricting commission so that neither party could create districts in its best interest above the interests of Georgia voters. We must strengthen our democratic institutions to guarantee a government by the people for the people.”