Supreme Court redistricting ruling could stop challenges to Georgia maps

November 19, 2021 Atlanta - Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) looks thru the newly-drawn congressional maps in the Senate Chambers during a special session at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Friday, November 19, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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November 19, 2021 Atlanta - Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) looks thru the newly-drawn congressional maps in the Senate Chambers during a special session at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Friday, November 19, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Judge considering how to move forward after decision in Alabama case

Lawsuits challenging Georgia’s redistricting could come to an abrupt halt after the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold a lower court’s ruling that had found new congressional maps in Alabama diluted representation of Black voters.

A federal judge in the Georgia case said in court Tuesday that he is weighing whether to continue hearings in light of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on Monday.

Justices in the Supreme Court’s conservative majority wrote that a lower court’s requirement for a new Alabama map came too close to the 2022 primary, leaving election officials little time to create new districts before its primary.

As in Alabama, Georgia’s primary election is also scheduled for May 24.

The Georgia lawsuits allege that new political districts deprive Black voters of adequate representation in a map designed to gain a Republican seat in Congress after this year’s elections. The GOP holds an 8-6 advantage in Georgia’s congressional delegation.

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Proposed U.S. House district map for Georgia.

Credit: Special

Proposed U.S. House district map for Georgia.

Credit: Special

Combined ShapeCaption
Proposed U.S. House district map for Georgia.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Attorneys defending Georgia’s Republican-drawn maps said there’s no time to redo political boundaries before the primary, even though lawsuits were filed immediately after Gov. Brian Kemp signed redistricting bills into law Dec. 30.

“It’s already too late to alter the election machinery,” Bryan Tyson, an attorney for the state, told U.S. District Judge Steve Jones. “The election machine comes rumbling down the track, and it’s too late to put a stop to it.”

Plaintiffs in the case argued that the rights of Black voters shouldn’t be discarded because Kemp delayed signing redistricting bills into law until 38 days after they passed the General Assembly, leaving almost no time for legal challenges to be resolved.

“It would be a dangerous path indeed for the district courts to decide that they’re powerless,” said Abha Khanna, an attorney for the plaintiffs, which include civil rights, religious and political groups. “The state says it’s already too late. ... That can’t be true.”

The Supreme Court’s decision didn’t change the legal interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits district lines that discriminate against Black voters. But the high court’s action reinstated maps drawn by the Republican-majority Alabama Legislature.

Arguments in the Alabama case will be scheduled for the fall, and a decision would come months later, meaning this year’s elections will move forward under the map that passed the Alabama Legislature.

The court’s ruling cited the Purcell principle, the idea that courts shouldn’t change election rules soon before an election because doing so could confuse voters and cause problems in administering elections.

Each side planned to call witnesses to the stand to answer questions about the feasibility of holding the primary election on schedule if new maps had to be drawn.

After hearing their testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, Jones could rule soon afterward.