General Assembly has December 8 deadline to create maps equitable for Black voters
ATLANTA — A federal court today ruled that Georgia’s state legislative district maps discriminate against Black voters and must be redrawn.
The decision follows an eight-day trial in September in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity v. Raffensperger, a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, and WilmerHale on behalf of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and several individual Georgia voters.
The groups successfully argued that the maps deny Black Georgians an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of choice, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
New district maps are drawn as part of a once-in-a-decade redistricting process triggered by the decennial census. They determine the allocation of political power, representation, and access to resources at every level of government for the next 10 years.
The 2020 census showed tremendous growth in the state’s Black population over the last decade. However, lawmakers enacted legislative maps with district lines that denied the state’s undeniable demographic shift, diluting Black Georgians’ voting strength, especially in Metro Atlanta, where the Black population had increased by hundreds of thousands.
During the trial, plaintiffs presented the court with abundant evidence that spotlighted a pattern of stark, racially-polarized voting in the state and how Georgia’s long history of racial discrimination continues to reverberate today.
The court ruled that the state’s failure to draw two new Black opportunity districts in the state Senate and four new Black opportunity districts in the state House violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered the General Assembly to draw new maps no later than Dec. 8, 2023.
In its ruling, the court held that while Georgia has made progress since 1965, “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.”
The court’s order therefore was issued “to ensure that Georgia continues to move toward equal openness and equal opportunity for everyone to participate in the electoral system.”
The following reactions are from:
Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “This ruling is a victory for Black voters in Georgia, and for anyone who believes voting should be fair. This decision confirms that Black voters were illegally shut out of political opportunities in the state. The court’s ruling is a vital step in ensuring that Black Georgians can participate in the political process on equal terms.”
Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff attorney at the ACLU of Georgia: “Today’s decision is a victory not only for our clients, but for every voter across Georgia. In 2021, the General Assembly ignored Georgia’s diversification over the last decade and enacted a state legislative map that demonstrably diluted the voting strength of Black voters. Today’s decision charts a path to correct that grave injustice before the 2024 election cycle. The General Assembly should now move swiftly to enact a remedial map that fairly represents Black voters.”
Denise Tsai of WilmerHale: “On behalf of our clients and all Black Georgians, we are gratified that the district court determined that Georgia’s 2021 state legislative maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by denying Black voters their right to equal political participation. One election held under illegal maps was already too many, and the General Assembly should promptly draw the additional majority Black districts called for by the court’s order. We look forward to continuing to vindicate the voting rights of Black Georgians until it does.”
Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, Bishop of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: “I and the Sixth Episcopal District are delighted with the decision by Judge Steve Jones. This decision corrects a wrong perpetrated upon the citizens of Georgia and Black citizens in particular. It ensures that the vote of every citizen in Georgia counts and that Black citizens and communities in Georgia have the appropriate representation in Congress and State Houses. Let Georgia say Amen!!!”
Sherman Lofton, Jr., former Georgia district director of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.: “We applaud the court’s decision and are grateful that they affirmed what we already knew: that the state was wrong in its efforts to draw maps that were not truly representative of its citizens. Today is a great day for all Georgia citizens and for those who continue to fight for fair elections!”