A lawmaker looks over maps during a redistricting debate in the General Assembly in 2011.
However, the plaintiffs fell short of documenting that state legislators and staff intended to depress black voter strength, the judges wrote.
“We did not move these voters because they are black, the state tells us. We moved them because they were Democrats. And under current Supreme Court precedent, the state tells us this motive is perfectly acceptable,” the order said.
The Georgia General Assembly redrew legislative boundaries in 2015 as Republicans feared they could lose the seats held by Chandler and Strickland, which they had won with 52.8 percent and 53.1 percent of the vote, respectively, the previous year.
Both Gwinnett and Henry counties had become more black and less white between 2000 and 2014. The number of white voters in Gwinnett declined by about 3,000, and black voters increased by 74,000, according to an email at the time from the Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.
The increasing competitiveness of the districts caused the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly to redraw the districts in 2015, outside the standard process of redistricting every 10 years after each census.
Chandler and Strickland would have lost re-election in 2016 if their districts hadn't been changed, according to an expert for the plaintiffs cited in the court's decision. Strickland won a special election this year to the state Senate.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Bill Custer, said Thursday he’s confident they’ll eventually prevail in the case, despite the court’s denial of the injunction.
“One of the key questions in the case is whether race predominated in the redrawing of Districts 105 and 111,” Custer said. “The fact that the majority found the evidence on that point to be ‘compelling’ is obviously a good sign.”
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the state against the lawsuit, declined to comment Thursday. The Georgia NAACP didn’t return a message seeking comment.
All three judges on the U.S. District Court panel agreed to deny the injunction, but one judge objected to his peers’ assertion that voters were denied “fair and effective representation.”
U.S. District Judge William Duffey wrote that references to the districts’ “changing demographics” doesn’t necessarily mean race was a factor in redistricting.
But U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin and U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten wrote that their opinion is based in part on testimony from former House Reapportionment Committee Chairman Randy Nix, who said legislators and staff sat in a room together in front of a computer and attempted to draw safer Republican districts.