A federal judge has ruled in a closely watched redistricting case out of Georgia, preserving a Republican gerrymander that dismantled the district represented by Rep. Lucy McBath (D).
McBath said shortly after the decision that she would run in a new district. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the maps would likely remain in place through at least Election Day 2024.
The maps, approved by the Georgia legislature and signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp (R) earlier this month, maintain Republicans’ 9-5 advantage in the state’s congressional representation. They protect Republican members of Congress who may have faced a challenging reelection, and show the impact of years of efforts by the Supreme Court to carve away chunks of the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. District Judge Steven Jones, who issued today’s ruling, had ordered the legislature to draw new maps earlier this year after finding that its 2021 redistricting diluted the strength of Black voters.
In response to his order, Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature created an obvious partisan gerrymander, Jones wrote. But it was not a racial gerrymander, he found, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that such aggressive partisan gerrymanders are allowed.
“[T]he committee and floor debate transcripts make clear that the General Assembly
created the 2023 Remedial Congressional Plan in a manner that politically
protected the majority party (i.e., the Republican Party) as much as possible,” wrote Jones, an Obama appointee. “However, redistricting decisions by a legislative body with an eye toward securing partisan advantage does not alone violate Section 2,” he wrote, citing Rucho v. Common Cause, a recent Supreme Court ruling on Section 2.
“[T]he Supreme Court has expressly stated that federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, given the lack of constitutional authority and the absence of legal standards to direct such decisions,” Jones wrote.
The decision was largely silent on a key issue that both friends and foes of the VRA have been watching closely: whether a district in which white voters are a minority, but in which no group is a majority, constitutes a protected, majority-minority district under the law. One such district was McBath’s, which was controlled by a minority coalition of Black, Latino and Asian voters.
Jones sidestepped that question, saying it was not a part of the dispute at hand.
“From its onset, however, this case has been about Black voters,” Jones’ wrote, adding in a footnote that question of how coalitions of multiple minority groups should be handled would be “better suited for a separate case.”
Civil rights groups may appeal Jones’ ruling.
Meanwhile, a separate case out of Galveston County, Texas is winding its way through federal court, seeking an answer to a similar set of questions about coalition districts. Kate Riga wrote about that suit in her roundup of attacks on the VRA yesterday.
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