The Georgia legislature adopted a new congressional map Thursday that will likely keep the state’s partisan split following a court decision earlier this year invalidating the state’s prior map as discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.
The state Senate passed the map earlier this week that appears to maintain nine Republican-leaning and five Democratic-leaning districts, and the state General Assembly voted 98-71 to pass it Thursday. The plan now heads to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.
The state faces a Dec. 8 deadline to finalize a new map before Judge Steve C. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia said he would have an outside expert draw one.
The latest map adds a new Black majority district west of Atlanta, but state Democrats said it violates the VRA in a new way because it changed the district currently held by Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath.
Thursday’s General Assembly debate previewed the likely coming court fight over the map, which is one of several states where redistricting litigation could help tip control of the closely divided House in next year’s elections.
“By manipulating district boundaries to favor one party over another this map disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters and distorts the electoral process,” Democratic state Rep. Billy Mitchell said.
In the initial draft adopted by the state following the 2020 census, Republican legislators changed the configuration of McBath’s old district. So she moved to her current district and defeated former Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 2022 primary.
McBath’s current seat around Atlanta was a “coalition” district which had a minority of white voters and a majority drawing from Black, Asian and Hispanic or Latino voters. McBath won the seat in 2022 with 61 percent of the vote.
The new map includes more white voters in McBath’s district and makes it more Republican, which Democrats argued violates the VRA. McBath herself said Thursday she’s “not surprised” by the legislature’s effort to redistrict her out of her seat, and argued she has been targeted by the legislature in the past.
“You know, I’ve always been the political target. So nothing’s changed there. And just there’s really nothing that we can do until we find out what the judge’s decision is,” McBath said, before noting that she plans to continue running for Congress. “I believe no matter what I’m coming back.”
State Republicans have defended the map, arguing that it complies with the court order to draw a new Black majority district around western Atlanta.
During floor debate Thursday in the General Assembly, Republican state Rep. Rob Leverett said the new map actually increased the Black voting age population in two districts in addition to creating a new Black majority district in the western Atlanta area.
He also pushed back on Democrats’ criticism that the law required the state to create or preserve coalition districts like McBath’s.
“I think the argument being made about this coalition district thing or this argument is going a little beyond Judge Jones’ order and a little above his head,” Leverett said during floor debate.
Jones’ October opinion, which sparked the latest redistricting, 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.
Jones ordered the state to draw a new congressional map with at least one new minority opportunity district by Dec. 8 or he would appoint a special master to draw a new map for the 2024 election.
Earlier this week Jones ordered the parties to file any objections to the new maps next week before a hearing on Dec. 20 about the new plans. In his decision earlier this year, Jones wrote that he would not allow the state to use a map for the 2024 elections that violated his findings about the VRA in the state’s first map.
A similar process played out in Alabama earlier this year following a court ruling that found that state’s congressional map violated the VRA. There the judge rejected the state’s remedial map and imposed one drawn by an outside expert for the 2024 election.