Judge says Georgia’s congressional and legislative districts are discriminatory and must be redrawn

State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, presents the newly-drawn congressional maps in 2021 in the Senate Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA — A federal judge ruled Thursday that some of Georgia’s congressional, state Senate and state House districts were drawn in a racially discriminatory manner, ordering the state to draw an additional Black-majority congressional district.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, in a 516-page order, also ordered the state to draw two new Black-majority districts in Georgia’s 56-member state Senate and five new Black-majority districts in its 180-member state House.


Jones ordered Georgia’s Republican majority General Assembly and governor to fix the maps by Dec. 8, saying he would redaw districts if lawmakers did not. Hours after the ruling, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a call for a special session to begin Nov. 29 to redraw congressional and legislative districts, although a spokesperson for the governor said that is a scheduling decision and doesn’t mean the Republican opposes an appeal.

Jones’ ruling follows an eight-day September trial in which the plaintiffs argued that Black voters are still fighting opposition from white voters and need federal help to get a fair shot, while the state argued court intervention on behalf of Black voters wasn’t needed.

“Georgia has made great strides since 1965 toward equality in voting,” Jones wrote. “However, the evidence before this court shows that Georgia has not reached the point where the political process has equal openness and equal opportunity for everyone.”

The Georgia case is part of a wave of litigation after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year stood behind its interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, rejecting a challenge to the law by Alabama.

Courts in Alabama and Florida ruled recently that Republican-led legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of Black residents. Legal challenges to congressional districts are also ongoing in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Jones wrote that he would not allow the 2024 elections to be conducted using districts he has found to be “unlawful.” That would require a special session, as lawmakers aren’t scheduled to meet again until January.

Jones’ order explicitly anticipates an appeal by the state, and such an appeal could slow down that schedule, and maybe even let the maps be used again next year. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that judges shouldn’t require changes to districts too close to an election.

A spokesperson for Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, whose office defended the plans in court, declined comment, saying lawyers were still reading the ruling. Other Republicans want to keep fighting.

“The majority party went to great lengths to draw maps that were legal, fair, compact, and kept communities of interest together,” state Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Steve Gooch of Dahlonega said in a statement.

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