Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder
State officials will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that struck down Georgia’s 2021 political maps for diluting the voting strength of Black Georgians.
But state officials will not try to block last week’s ruling while the appeal is being heard, according to a notice filed with the court Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones ruled last week that the state’s GOP-drawn boundary lines violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, barring the state from using the maps in next year’s election when all members of Congress and the Georgia General Assembly are on the ballot.
Gov. Brian Kemp has already called a special legislative session for Nov. 29 to redraw the maps, and he did so within hours of the ruling. But it had been an open question how other state GOP leaders would respond to the 516-page ruling.
The order calls for the creation of one additional majority Black congressional district and seven more majority Black legislative seats. Black Georgians tend to vote for Democrats at high rates.
An attorney for the state filed the notice in another redistricting challenge that was headed for trial this month before a panel of three judges, including Jones. That trial has been postponed for now.
House Speaker Jon Burns said Republican mapmakers are “looking deeply” into the order and what it will take to comply with it, according to remarks made Wednesday on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Politically Georgia podcast.
The remedy outlined in Jones’ ruling calls for five additional majority Black House districts. Republicans currently hold a 102-to-78 majority in a chamber where 91 votes are needed to pass a bill.
“I think at the end of the day we’ll be in a place that Judge Jones will be able to accept and be what’s best for our members and, more importantly, be impactful for our constituents and the people of Georgia,” Burns said on the show. “That’s what we’re going to get to, and I’m looking forward to going through that process.”
In the state Senate, Republicans have a 33-to-23 advantage, and Jones’ order calls for two additional Black majority Senate districts. And of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats, Republicans represent nine of them, up from eight last year.
In neighboring Alabama, state leaders fought a federal court directive to create a second majority Black congressional district in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices issued a ruling this summer that left Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act intact and gave new life to the legal challenges in Georgia.
“We’re glad that the state is not trying to press pause on this decision,” Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff attorney at the ACLU of Georgia, which is representing one group of plaintiffs, said during a call with reporters Thursday.
“The judge’s decision in this case was over 500 pages long, which reflects the amount of evidence and testimony that we put forward to substantiate our claims. So, I think we’re confident that this ruling will be upheld in the appeals process and that Georgians will have new maps in time for the 2024 election cycle.”
Ari Savitzky, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said he was heartened by Kemp’s decision to quickly call a special session to draw new maps. But the attorneys for the plaintiffs have also found comfort in a provision of Jones’ order that gives lawmakers until Dec. 8 to adopt new plans that give Black Georgians a chance to elect their preferred candidates.
“The remedial process with the court always remains a backstop no matter what happens,” Savitzky said. “And so we are very heartened that the court’s order makes clear: new maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act must be in place in time for the 2024 election.”
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