New Georgia congressional map approved, preserving Republican power

Map heads back to court after judge ruled Georgia weakened Black voters.
State House Rep. Inga Willis, D-Atlanta, reviews a map during discussion of redistricting bill SB 3EX during the special legislative session Thursday at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

State House Rep. Inga Willis, D-Atlanta, reviews a map during discussion of redistricting bill SB 3EX during the special legislative session Thursday at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Georgia Republican legislators passed a new congressional map Thursday that protects their party’s dominance in the U.S. House and might violate a federal judge’s order requiring an additional majority-Black district.

The redistricting plan, approved by the Georgia House on a party-line vote, is designed to preserve Republicans’ 9-5 advantage in the state delegation to the U.S. House. The revised districts now go to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

The new map sets up a high-stakes court battle over which districts will be used in next year’s elections after a federal judge ruled that Georgia’s current political boundaries illegally weakened Black voting power in violation of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Under the Republican map, voters are moved into different districts in a way that prevents Black voters — and the Democratic candidates they overwhelmingly support — from winning additional representation in elections.

Nine districts would retain a white majority, and a majority of white voters in Georgia usually back Republicans. Before the first round of redistricting two years ago, Republicans held an 8-6 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.

“This map disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters and distorts the democratic process,” said state Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “At the end of Election Day, the results should reflect the will of the people, not the craftiness of mapmakers.”

Republican defenders of their redistricting said they complied with U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ order because they added a fourth majority-Black district and retained another district in southwest Georgia where 49% of voters are Black.

Credit: Special

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Credit: Special

They did so by reshaping a multiracial Atlanta-area district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, where most voters are people of color but no single race makes up a majority, even though the judge said they couldn’t correct violations “by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere.” Minority opportunity districts are generally defined as areas where racial minority groups are able to elect their preferred candidates by attracting some support from white voters.

“It is a fair map for the people of Georgia, and it complies with Judge Jones’ order while meeting Georgia’s goals as a state that is open for representation of all people,” said state Rep. Matt Reeves, a Republican from Duluth.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The new congressional map will soon head back to court. If Jones rules that the General Assembly defied his order after a Dec. 20 hearing, he could appoint a special master to draw new boundaries. The case could quickly reach the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The conflict between lawmakers and the court follows a similar case in Alabama, where the Legislature defied a federal court order to add an additional Black district.

The court then imposed a new congressional map for Alabama that will be used in next year’s elections. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the Voting Rights Act’s protections for Black voters in the Alabama case.

Jones’ order in October found that Black voters lacked adequate opportunities for representation that reflected their population growth over the past decade.

Georgia’s Black population, including those who identify as Black and at least one other race, increased by 484,000 in the decade before 2020, while the state’s white-only population declined by 52,000, according to the U.S. census. Black residents account for 33% of Georgia’s population, and white residents make up about half of the state’s population.

Democratic state Rep. Sam Park said the new Republican map continues to discriminate against Black voters, and he compared the GOP majority’s actions to election denial after Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.

“This open defiance of a federal court order is alarming. It is reminiscent of the refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection,” said Park, who is from Lawrenceville. “This Republican map is unlawful. Judge Jones can and should reject it.”

House Redistricting Chairman Rob Leverett said the General Assembly followed the court’s order, unlike lawmakers in Alabama. He said Jones’ requirement to preserve “minority opportunity districts” applied to Black voters, not districts with coalitions of Black, Asian and Hispanic voters.

“That is the bitterest pill right there, to be accused of being like our friends to the west. That is really a low blow,” said Leverett, a Republican from Elberton. “I don’t think you can say that we are being like Alabama when we are passing a map that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district.”

The House passed the map, Senate Bill EX 3, on a 98-71 vote.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly also approved new maps for the state House and Senate in response to Jones’ order requiring seven additional majority-Black districts, five in the House and two in the Senate. The new maps protect every incumbent in the Senate, leaving little room for political turnover, and could allow Democrats to gain two seats in the House.

Both Jones and appellate courts will have to act fast to decide whether Georgia’s new maps are legal.

State election officials have previously said they need districts to be finalized by sometime in January to give them enough time to prepare for the 2024 elections.

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