A federal judge appointed by former President Barack Obama threw out Georgia voting maps drawn by Republicans over alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act, The Hill reported. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled Thursday that the maps must be redrawn by Dec. 8.
The ruling came after a bench trial last month that spanned two weeks. Jones concluded that the maps unfairly took away power from black voters with the redistricting.
"After conducting a thorough and sifting review of the evidence in this case, the Court finds that the State of Georgia violated the Voting Rights Act when it enacted its congressional and legislative maps," he wrote in a 516-page opinion. "The Court commends Georgia for the great strides that it has made to increase the political opportunities of Black voters in the 58 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965," Jones added.
"Despite these great gains, the Court determines that in certain areas of the State, the political process is not equally open to Black voters," he continued. Jones made recommendations for the new map that would give more voting power to black-majority areas.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires maps to be drawn with the aim of giving minority voters an equal share in a given state's politics. The plaintiffs in this case argued that the black population had increased, and therefore, the new map would need to reflect that better.
The judge agreed and ordered that a remedial map must include five more House districts, two more state Senate districts, and one more congressional district, all with black majorities. Georgia has the right to appeal, but it's unclear if that will take place, considering the potential for the state to shift to a Democrat majority under the new rules.
A spokesperson from the office of Georgia Republican Attorney General Chris Carr refused to comment on that possibility as well. Of course, representatives for some of the plaintiffs were pleased with the ruling.
ACLU senior voting rights staff attorney Rahul Garabadu, representing some of the plaintiffs, implied the decision was a long time coming. "In 2021, the General Assembly ignored Georgia’s diversification over the last decade and enacted a state legislative map that demonstrably diluted the voting strength of Black voters," a statement from Garabadu said.
"Today’s decision charts a path to correct that grave injustice before the 2024 election cycle. The General Assembly should now move swiftly to enact a remedial map that fairly represents Black voters," the ACLU attorney added.
Representing some of the other plaintiffs was Elias Law Group partner Abha Khanna, who similarly lauded the decision. "We are thrilled that the Court struck down Georgia’s congressional and state legislative maps today and outlined a clear process by which Georgia voters will get relief before the 2024 election, whether or not Georgia’s General Assembly chooses to comply with this order."
This case follows a trend of states rejecting GOP-drawn maps. Although the maps are supposed to be up to the party who wins control, a Supreme Court decision in June against an Alabama map has opened the door to such challenges.
The high court struck down the Cotton State's map under the Voting Rights Act and its impact on minority voters. The result was Alabama was close to having an additional district added with a majority black population.
Other states like Louisiana and Arkansas have also had their maps challenged on the basis of racial justice. This has effectively shifted the map drawing out of the hands of the political party in control and sets a precedent to continue to do just that.
It's important to make sure all citizens of every race get a voice. However, taking away the power to draw the districting maps is an encroachment on the claims the political victors have a right to, even if it is supposedly in the name of fairness.