The Republican-majority Georgia legislature passed a final congressional map Thursday, ignoring — or at least, challenging — a federal judge’s warnings in order to maintain their cushy 9-5 House seat split with Democrats.
Rather than unwind a Republican district, they dismantled Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-GA) seat — controlled by a minority coalition of Black, Latino and Asian voters — to create the additional court-ordered Black-majority seat. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is expected to sign the map before the Friday deadline.
“Georgia Republicans have yet again attempted to subvert voters by changing the rules,” McBath campaign manager Jake Orvis said in a statement. “We will look to the ruling from Judge Jones in the coming weeks before announcing further plans.”
McBath herself added in a statement shortly after: “I will not let an extremist portion of the state legislature decide when my time serving the people of Georgia is through. I will come back to Washington.”
The new map will almost certainly be challenged in court. If U.S. District Judge Steve Jones tosses the new map as a violation of his orders, a special master will be brought in to redraw it.
When Jones ordered the legislature to create an additional Black-majority district in late October, he explicitly warned them against simply reshuffling minority voters to comply with his order.
“The State cannot remedy the Section 2 violations described herein by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere in the plans,” he wrote.
Georgia Democrats repeatedly cited that section of his ruling on the floor Thursday.
While Democrats and voting rights advocates immediately cried foul, there is some ambiguity in the case law concerning whether these coalitional districts, composed of more than one minority group, are protected under the Voting Rights Act. Some federal appellate courts, including the 11th and the 5th, have ruled that they are; the 6th has said they’re not. The Supreme Court has so far remained silent on the issue.
Republicans have been itching for a chance to target that question, especially after recent election cycles have proven the voting power of these relatively newly diversified — and Democratic-leaning — suburban coalitions.
The question is already coming to a head in a case out of Texas, where a 5th Circuit panel begrudgingly upheld its precedent, that the coalitions are protected, but called for a full circuit rehearing to overturn it.
“Precedent establishes the validity of so-called minority-coalition claims like those brought in this case. And this panel is bound by it under the rule of orderliness,” the three judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, wrote. “But the court’s decisions in this respect are wrong as a matter of law. The text of Section 2 does not support the conclusion that distinct minority groups may be aggregated for purposes of vote-dilution claims.”
The full circuit granted the panel’s push for rehearing, and oral arguments are tentatively scheduled to begin the week of May 13, 2024.
In the Georgia case, plaintiffs now have until December 12 to formally lodge their opposition to the new maps. A hearing is scheduled for December 20.