A federal judge in Georgia found Thursday that the state’s congressional and legislative maps discriminate against Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act and ordered the state to draw new maps in advance of next year’s congressional elections.
In a more than 500-page opinion, Judge Steve C. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia gave the state until Dec. 8 to draw new maps before he would step in to appoint someone else to do so. The challenge to the maps has been ongoing for nearly two years and is one of several states where court battles over redistricting could help tip the balance of power in the closely divided House.
The opinion found that the state violated the VRA by drawing a map that minimized Black voters’ ability to influence the outcome of elections in five of the state’s 14 congressional districts, mostly concentrated around Atlanta and northern Georgia.
Black voters made up much of the growth in the state in the last 10 years, a change that mapmakers did not include in the new map, Jones wrote.
“By failing to do so, the Enacted Congressional Plan in effect dilutes and diminishes the Black population’s voting power in that area of the State,” Jones wrote.
Several civil rights groups, religious organizations and voters challenged the state’s map in 2021 after legislators enacted the plan, arguing it shortchanged Black voters. Jones initially sided with the challengers on a preliminary injunction before the 2022 elections, but held off on ordering a new map at that time because the Supreme Court had paused a similar ruling on Alabama’s congressional map.
After the Supreme Court sided with the challengers to Alabama’s congressional map in a ruling issued earlier this year, Jones allowed the case to proceed. He heard arguments in a trial over the maps last month, with the state arguing it should not be required to draw an additional Black majority district just because it was possible to do so.
Jones concluded the state’s map violated the VRA for five congressional districts: The 3rd District held by Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson; the 6th District held by Republican Rep. Rich McCormick; the 11th District held by Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk; the 13th District held by Democratic Rep. David Scott; and the 14th District held by Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Experts expect that redrawing the districts around Atlanta could result in one or more additional districts where Democrats could pick up seats.
Jones did not specify a particular map or requirement for the state, but frequently pointed to an illustrative map that included an additional Black-majority district in the Atlanta area.
The opinion noted that the new map does not have to provide Black voters in the state proportional representation, an issue that frequently surfaced in the litigation over the Louisiana and Alabama maps.
Court battles over redistricting could result in new maps in several states for next year’s elections.
In three states where trial courts have found maps violate the VRA, only one, Alabama, now has a new map for 2024. Litigation over the future of Louisiana’s map is tied up in appeals.
In Thursday’s opinion, Jones wrote that if the state does not draw a new plan that complies with his opinion in time he will step in. He wrote that he “will not allow another election cycle on redistricting plans that the Court has determined on a full trial record to be unlawful.”
A representative for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state defendant in the case, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.