Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed a new U.S. House map for the state that largely preserves their electoral advantage after a federal judge tossed out the last electoral map in October.
The Georgia House of Representatives voted 98-71 during a special session on Thursday, granting final passage of a redistricting proposal that gives Republicans an edge in nine of Georgia’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The vote sends the map to Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk.
The redistricting session came about after U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled that the prior Congressional map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which states “No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
Judge Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama, reached his determination after a group of plaintiffs argued that the prior map “dilutes” the weight of ballots cast by black voters across multiple Congressional districts. Judge Jones ruled that Georgia would have to create a new map that creates a new majority-black U.S. congressional district west of Atlanta and must do so without “eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere.”
The new Republican map does create a new majority-black U.S. congressional district west of Atlanta. But it also virtually eliminates the current minority-heavy 7th U.S. Congressional District currently represented by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat.
While the Republican governor would normally have the last word on the Congressional map, that won’t be the case this time. Instead, lawyers for the state and those who successfully sued to overturn previous GOP-drawn maps will have to come back before Judge Jones on Dec. 20. There, lawyers for the state will have to argue that they fulfilled Judge Jones’ order.
Districting Fight Not Settled
Instead of targeting a Republican Congressional seat, the new Republican proposal shifts parts of Ms. McBath’s current district in suburban Gwinnett and Fulton counties into a district held by Republican U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, stretching from Atlanta’s northern suburbs into its heavily Republican northern mountains.
The latest U.S. census data indicates District 7 has no racial majority, with non-Hispanic white people making up about 40 percent of the district, black people making up about 20 percent, Asians making up about 15 percent, and Hispanic people comprising about 19 percent.
State Republicans contend the term “minority opportunity district” doesn’t clearly apply to districts in which there is no racial majority but rather a “coalition” of multiple racial minorities.
“This plan adds the required district; it complies with Judge Jones’ order,” said House Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee chairman Rob Leverett, a Republican from Elberton. “It fulfills our obligation as a General Assembly with respect to congressional districts.”
Opponents of the new map say that a racial “coalition” actually does qualify as “minority opportunity districts” and the way Republicans reshaped District 7 therefore runs afoul of Juge Jones’ order that the new map not eliminate a minority opportunity district.
Kareem Crayton, a redistricting researcher for the liberal Brennan Center for Justice, said proponents of the new map are wrongly interpreting the term “minority opportunity districts” to mean “only majority-Black districts.”
If Judge Jones does not approve of the new map, he could order a special master to redraw the map for the court instead.
“It looks like a virtual certainty that the special master will have the last say,” said Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Democrat representative in the state legislature.
Regardless of the outcome, Ms. McBath told Politico that she plans to fight to stay in Congress.
“I intend to come back to Washington,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.