March 28, 2013 - Atlanta, Ga: Rep. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, begins to rip paper in pieces in preparation for, "Sine Die," before the closing of Legislative Day 40 in the House Chambers at the Capitol Thursday night in Atlanta, Ga., March 28, 2013. Thursday is the last day of the 2013 Legislative Session, Legislative Day 40. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

Lawsuit claims Georgia House districts drawn to remove minority voters

Voters opposed to a 2015 redistricting plan have filed a second federal lawsuit claiming Georgia illegally “gerrymandered” two state House districts by moving minority voters out of areas represented by vulnerable white Republican lawmakers.

The suit, filed Tuesday by 11 residents who live in and around those districts in metro Atlanta, said that the boundary lines of the seats held by state Reps. Joyce Chandler, R-Grayson, and Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, were redrawn two years ago to increase the percentage of white voters in those districts to protect both incumbents.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who administers elections, is named as the sole defendant. A spokesman for Kemp said his office had not yet seen the suit. A spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, declined comment.

The suit is being sponsored by the National Redistricting Foundation, an organization led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served in the Obama Administration, and also has the support of Atlanta’s Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

Chandler’s District 105 seat in Gwinnett County and Strickland’s District 111 in Henry County have been two of the most competitive in the Republican-led, 180-member House. Both district boundaries were changed in 2015 when lawmakers passed House Bill 566, which also adjusted the lines of 15 other districts.

House members who authored the legislation have long claimed they had no ill intent in redrawing the districts, saying that the overall changes in the bill had been requested by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The lawsuit, however, claimed the changes to Districts 105 and 111 in particular show how the bill “specifically targets districts where white Republicans have become increasingly vulnerable to challenge by African-American Democratic candidates, moving voters in and out of House districts based on their race so as to shore up the incumbent Republicans’ prospects in future elections.”

It also noted the state’s history of racial discrimination, saying changes that once may have been reviewed under a now-defunct portion of the Voting Rights Act needed intervention by a federal court.

It’s a challenge that has national implications, coming as the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over alleged gerrymandering in a Wisconsin case involving election maps for state lawmakers there. A three-judge panel ruled last year that those maps were drawn so heavily toward Republicans that they violated Democratic voters’ constitutional rights, a decision the nation’s highest court is now reviewing.

The Georgia suit also follows a similar one filed here in April by the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which also targeted the 2015 redistricting effort over the same two districts.

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