Lawsuits claim Georgia’s redistricting maps ignore Black population growth
ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp signed new Georgia political maps into law Thursday, finalizing Republican efforts to solidify their majorities in a rapidly changing state as opponents immediately filed three court challenges.
The once-a-decade redistricting creates boundaries that give Republicans an opportunity to gain a seat in Congress after next year’s elections. The new congressional map contains nine districts that lean Republican and five districts with mostly Democratic voters.
While there was never a doubt that Kemp would sign the redistricting bills, he waited over a month since they passed the General Assembly. The delay stalled legal action until the new maps were written into state law.
The federal lawsuits allege that both congressional and state maps are racially discriminatory because they reduce the voting strength of people of color who tend to support Democrats. Georgia’s population has increased by 1 million since 2010, fueled entirely by people of color as the number of white residents declined.
“Notwithstanding this explosive growth, politicians have failed to draw maps that give many of these new Black voters new opportunities to elect candidates of their choice,” said Sean Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia. “Rather than a new chapter, politicians have stuck with the same discriminatory playbook.”
Some of the lawsuits target the 6th Congressional District in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, which legislators reshaped in hopes of electing a Republican in 2022. The new district stretches northward into more Republican areas.
After McBath won 55% of the vote in last year’s election, the new 6th District favors Republicans by 15 percentage points, according to estimates by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution based on voting patterns.
Activists who opposed the new map questioned the need to change the 6th District so drastically when it had about 660 more voters than were required for each of the state’s 14 congressional districts to ensure equal-size populations. It was the district that was closest to being right on target with about 765,000 voters.
The Republican-drawn map shifts about 45% of the district — or about 355,000 residents — from Democratic-leaning DeKalb and Fulton counties out of the district and brings in about the same number from Republican-leaning Cherokee, Dawson and Forsyth counties.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include a variety of civil rights, religious and political groups, along with individual voters. They include the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the 6th District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Kemp didn’t comment on the redistricting bills.
“The congressional map signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp is a shameless power grab that cheats Black voters out of proper representation,” said Marina Jenkins of the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “We call for a plan that complies with the Voting Rights Act and properly protects the rights of Georgia’s Black voters.”
In addition to redrawing congressional lines, the General Assembly created maps for the state House and Senate that aim to protect Republican majorities in elections for years to come.
But the maps also anticipate gains by Democratic candidates in metro Atlanta where the state’s population has been expanding. Each district is required to have a roughly equal number of residents.
The revised Senate has 33 districts that tend to vote for Republicans and 23 that lean toward Democrats, an increase of one Democratic seat from current districts. The new House map includes 98 districts that favor Republicans and 82 tilted toward Democrats, a potential gain of five Democratic districts in next year’s elections.
One district targeted in court is the only majority-minority district in the General Assembly to currently be represented by a Republican lawmaker — state Sen. Brian Strickland of McDonough. Senate District 17 previously included parts of Henry, Newton and Rockdale counties — including the majority-Black cities of Locust Grove and Hampton.
The new map shifts the district to the east, stretching into Walton and Morgan counties, while moving away from metro Atlanta and removing Locust Grove, Hampton and the portion of Rockdale County that had previously been in the district. The changes increase the district’s white population from about 46% to 57%.
Strickland won reelection last year with about 51% of the vote. The new district favors Republicans by about 10 percentage points, according to the AJC’s estimates.
Republicans who hold a majority in the Georgia General Assembly passed a congressional map designed to help them gain a seat in next year’s elections. Republicans currently hold an 8-6 lead in Georgia’s congressional delegation.
Redistricting is required every decade to ensure equal populations in districts. This time, it came after Georgia gained 1 million new residents.
Lawsuits will allege that the maps are racially discriminatory because they reduce the voting strength of people of color.