US judge orders new congressional map in Georgia, citing harm to Black voters

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -A federal judge on Thursday ordered Georgia lawmakers to draw a new congressional map for the 2024 election, ruling that the current Republican-backed plan illegally diluted Black votes in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

U.S. District Steve Jones gave legislators until Dec. 8 to enact a new map that includes an additional district with a Black majority or near-majority, which would likely flip a Republican seat to Democrats.

Republicans won nine of the state’s 14 U.S. House of Representative districts in the 2022 elections, which took place under the map that Jones invalidated.

The litigation is among several redistricting cases across the U.S. that could help determine which party takes control of the House in next year’s congressional elections. Democrats need to add only five seats nationally to wrest back the House majority they lost in 2022.

The Georgia ruling comes four months after the U.S. Supreme Court found that Alabama’s Republican-drawn map illegally harmed Black voters. A panel of federal judges has since approved a new map that added a near-majority-Black district to the state’s lone majority Black district.

Jones also ordered lawmakers to revise the state’s state Senate and House maps as well.

Shortly after Thursday’s decision, which followed a two-week trial in September, Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp issued a call for a special legislative session beginning Nov. 29 to redraw the state’s voting maps.

An appeal is likely, however. In a statement, the Republican leadership of the state Senate said, “Obviously, we strongly disagree with the ruling and expect that all legal options will be explored to maintain the maps as passed by the legislature.”

In a 516-page ruling, Jones noted that over the past decade, the state’s population growth was entirely attributable to its minority residents. Nevertheless, he said, the state’s congressional and legislative maps did not add more majority-Black districts.

Despite “great strides” in providing Black voters more opportunities over the decades, Jones wrote, “the political process is not equally open to Black voters.”

In a statement, Gloria Butler, the Democratic minority leader in the state Senate, said, “I applaud the district court’s decision ordering Georgia to draw maps compliant with the Voting Rights Act.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)