Federal Judge Orders New Majority-Black District In Georgia, Warns Legislature Not To Jerk Him Around

Judge Jones ordered one additional majority-Black congressional district and seven additional majority-Black legislative districts.
Georgia. Getty Image
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A federal judge in Georgia ordered a redraw of both the state’s congressional and legislative maps Thursday, mandating that one new majority-Black congressional district and seven majority-Black legislative districts be added.

In a 500-plus-page whopper of an opinion, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled that the maps discriminated against Black voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. He ordered the legislature to produce new compliant maps by Dec. 8. 

“This Court retains jurisdiction to determine whether the remedial plans adopted by the General Assembly remedy the Section 2 violations by incorporating additional legislative districts in which Black voters have a demonstrable opportunity to elect their candidates of choice,” he wrote. “In the event that the State is unable or unwilling to enact remedial plans by December 8, 2023 that satisfy the requirements set forth above, the Court will proceed to draw or adopt remedial plans.” 

Jones, an Obama appointee, warned the Georgia legislature not to jerk him around, explicitly stating that eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere in the state as it draws the new ones would not comply with his order. 

He also included a preemptive rebuttal to any whining from the legislators — or the Supreme Court — that the deadline doesn’t provide enough time to both produce the new maps and give election administrators a chance to adjust to them before the November 2024 elections. 

“The Court is confident that the General Assembly can accomplish its task by December 8, 2023: the General Assembly enacted the Plans quickly in 2021; the Legislature has been on notice since at least the time that this litigation was commenced nearly 22 months ago that new maps might be necessary; the General Assembly already has access to an experienced cartographer; and the General Assembly has an illustrative remedial plan to consult,” he wrote.

He also cited the Purcell principle, seemingly trying to dissuade the high court from using its favorite, inconsistently applied theory about when is too close to an election to change election and voting laws. He wrote that “temporal concerns are not at issue,” given that the elections are over a year away. 

Jones is the same judge who, in recent weeks, received some national attention for handling attempts by defendants in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ Georgia RICO case to remove their prosecutions to federal court. 

This redistricting case in Georgia — alongside similar ones in states including Alabama and Louisiana — will have significant bearing on the 2024 race for the House of Representatives majority. With Republicans only controlling the chamber by a slim margin, a handful of new court-ordered majority-Black districts, which will almost certainly elect Democrats, will reduce Republicans’ artificial advantage. 

Those cases are all the more politically critical given the maps produced Wednesday by the North Carolina legislature, which would make three seats currently held by Democrats near-certain Republican flips, and a fourth a more Republican friendly tossup. Litigation is sure to follow, though the heavily conservative U.S. Supreme Court would likely be the only shot at salvation, as the North Carolina Supreme Court — which became very right-wing after the 2022 elections — reversed a less than one-year-old decision from its more liberal successor in April, allowing the legislature’s aggressively gerrymandered maps to stand. 

Read Jones’ ruling here:

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