A trial over the redrawing of Georgia’s political map opened Tuesday with the question of whether Black voters’ booming population growth justifies greater representation in Congress and the General Assembly.
The case has the potential to upend Georgia’s current district lines if a federal judge rules that the Republican-held Legislature illegally weakened Black voters’ electoral power, a finding that could result in Democrats gaining a congressional seat as well as several in the state House and Senate.
“Black voters were shut out of new political opportunities even though new majority-Black districts could have easily been drawn,” Sophia Lin Lakin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in her opening statement. “Black Georgians continue to be underrepresented in the halls of power.”
The trial began after the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect representation of Black voters.
A ruling for the plaintiffs, which include civil rights and religious groups, would result in a redrawing of Georgia’s political maps before next year’s elections.
New maps with additional majority-Black districts would benefit Democrats, who are overwhelmingly supported by Black voters. Most white voters generally vote for Republicans.
An attorney defending the state’s maps told U.S. District Judge Steve Jones that Black voters have gained representation in recent statewide races with victories by Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and President Joe Biden.
“There is success for Black political candidates in Georgia, but plaintiffs are asking for more success,” said Bryan Tyson, who represents the state. “... Every Georgia voter, regardless of race or color, has an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.”
During redistricting, Republicans redrew political lines in a way that resulted in their party adding a congressional seat north of Atlanta that was previously held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who is Black.
Republicans now hold nine of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts, up from eight seats before redistricting. The Republican Party also retained its majority in the General Assembly, where the GOP holds 57% of state legislative seats.
The trial, which is scheduled to last two weeks, got underway as a three-judge panel rejected Alabama’s latest congressional map Tuesday because it failed to follow a court order requiring an additional district where Black voters would at least came close to comprising a majority.
The first witness who took the stand was William Cooper, an expert mapmaker for the plaintiffs who testified that population growth among Black Georgians was enough for three new seats in the state Senate and eight in the state House.
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.
“There’s been a tremendous change in the Black population of Georgia,” Cooper said. “It’s just baffling that no additional state House or state Senate seats were created.”
After redistricting, the number of majority-Black state Senate districts remained the same and grew by two in the state House. Cooper testified that the increase in majority-Black state House districts fell far short of reflecting Black population growth.
Other potential witnesses in the case include Bishop Reginald Jackson, who leads more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia; former Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter; Republican Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy; and several experts in demographics.
If Jones, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama, rules against Georgia’s maps, the General Assembly would likely convene a special session this fall to redraw the state’s political boundaries.
All 14 congressional seats and 236 General Assembly districts will be on the ballot next year.