Federal Judge Orders Georgia to Create New Black-Majority Electoral Districts

A federal judge appointed by Barack Obama recently ordered Georgia’s Republican legislature “to create one new black-majority congressional district and seven such districts for state elections.”

Judge Steve C. Jones of the Northern District of Georgia wrote on Oct. 26 a staggering 516-page order (pdf) in the case captioned Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity v. Raffensperger, which stated by Judge Jones found “that the Georgia legislature drew up new districts in a racially discriminatory manner in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity is a nonprofit organization for black Americans that describes itself as “strengthening the brotherhood and standing for social justice.” Brad Raffensperger is Georgia’s Republican secretary of state.

Judge Jones ordered the Georgia legislature to create by December 8 these eight new black-majority electoral districts for the 2024 congressional and state elections. As reported, courts around the country are “dealing with a torrent of litigation spurred by the United State Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision in June, 2023, in Allen v. Milligan. In the Milligan case, what has been described in some reporting as “the conservative-dominated court” interpreted the VRA to require the court to reject “Alabama’s request to leave its legislature-approved electoral map in place.”

In a related VRA case. A Florida court recently held that the Republican-controlled state legislature “illegally diluted the voting power of black residents.” Background reporting discloses that other legal challenges to congressional districts “are pending in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.”

As reported, after conducting what he called “a thorough and sifting review of the evidence in this case,” Judge Jones directed the legislature to create one new black-majority congressional district, along with two new black-majority districts in the Georgia Senate and five new black-majority districts in the Georgia House of Representatives. Georgia’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives currently consists of nine Republicans and five Democrats. Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators are Democrats.

Implementing Judge Jones’ order may be challenging, in that Republicans control both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly. “The state Senate has 33 Republicans and 23 Democrats. The state House has 102 Republicans and 78 Democrats.” Judge Jones did not shy away from personal engagement in the process. Judge Jones is quoted as saying: “if the legislature fails to act, he would carry out the map-drawing process himself.”

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp responded promptly after Judge Jones issued his order. Gov. Kemp called for a special legislative session to begin on Nov. 29 to make new maps for the elections. However, as reported, Judge Jones’ order is likely to be appealed, “in which case the federal appeals court may put the order on hold. If that happens, the districts as currently drawn may still be used in next year’s elections.”

“Georgia has made great strides since 1965 toward equality in voting,” Judge Jones wrote in the order. “However,” Judge Jones added, “the evidence before this court shows that Georgia has not reached the point where the political process has equal openness and equal opportunity for everyone.” No doubt anticipating criticism of his findings and order, Judge Jones chose to add that his ruling “in no way states or implies that the General Assembly or Georgia Republicans are racist.

Judge Jones did make the finding that “the districts now in place do not reflect the fact that the growth of the state’s non-white population has outpaced the growth rate of the white population, he wrote.”

D & B Staff

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Episode 15