Georgia’s newly redrawn legislative maps violate federal voting rights law and will prove detrimental to voters of color, contend a trio of federal lawsuits that seek to overturn the new redistricting laws before voters head to the polls in 2022.
The three lawsuits, filed late Thursday in federal district court for the Northern District of Georgia, were a swift response after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the three newly redistricted maps into law earlier that day for the state’s senate, house, and federal congressional districts. The plaintiffs are a cross-section of civil and voting rights groups; community organizations and activists; churches; and individual voters.
The federal lawsuits seek to block the newly redrawn maps, which were approved by the GOP-controlled state legislature on Nov. 22, contending that they violate the Voting Rights Act by ignoring Black population growth and minimizing the voting strength of Black Georgians. The once-a-decade redistricting process is based on 2020 census data.
The lawsuits also seek to remap the state, house, senate and congressional districts so they’re more reflective of the state’s growing diversity, asking for “remedial redistricting plans” more in line with the Voting Rights Act–and even an “interim electoral plan” for the upcoming 2022 elections.
An ACLU official called the Georgia maps “a brazen attempt” by the state’s lawmakers to thwart the political power of Black voters. The ACLU lawsuit alleges the new maps violate Section 2 of the federal voting rights law by cutting the voting strength of Georgians of color, especially Black Georgians.
“There’s no legitimate justification for drawing maps that deny Black voters an opportunity to elect representatives who will fight for them in these critical statehouse deliberations,” Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
One expert predicted the redistricting controversy would ultimately be decided in court. “The first round plays out in the legislature,” University of Georgia professor Charles Bullock, a leading authority on redistricting, told Atlanta Civic Circle in early November. “The second round plays out in the courts.
The Georgia General Assembly approved the redrawn maps, which create an additional GOP-favored congressional district, before Thanksgiving. The ACLU noted in a statement Thursday that Kemp “delayed his formal signature until the last possible moment–this afternoon–dramatically shortening the time that courts will have to evaluate the legality before the March filing deadline for the 2022 primary elections.”
The lawsuits name Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as the main defendant, along with Kemp and state elections board members in one case.
Raffensperger pushed back against the lawsuits.
“Georgia’s maps are fair and adhere to traditional principles of redistricting,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “These lawsuits are nothing but politically-motivated actions from politically-motivated groups seeking to further their partisan preferences.”
The ACLU and WilmerHale, a Washington, D.C. law firm, filed the first lawsuit on behalf of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Sixth District; the nation’s largest Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha; and individual voters. The Georgia State Conference of the NAACP followed with a similar suit, representing Latino Leadership group GALEO Latino Development Fund and civil rights group Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.
The third lawsuit was filed by six Black voters in Cobb and Douglas counties, led by Rev. Coakley Pendergrass, a Cobb County community activist.
“The General Assembly has diluted the growing electoral strength of the state’s communities of color,” that lawsuit said. “Faced with Georgia’s changing demographics, the General Assembly has ensured that the growth of the state’s Black population will not translate to increased political influence at the federal level.”
Over the last decade, the state’s Black population grew by 16 percent, according to the lawsuit. One in three Georgians are Black and people of color are nearly half of the state’s population, according to the 2020 census.
State lawmakers should have created more majority-Black districts in metro Atlanta, the Black voters’ lawsuit said because Black people in that region vote as a bloc and the population is numerous and compact enough to warrant additional districts.
The lawsuits are part of a wave of redistricting challenges nationwide. A group of Texas Democrats and a Mexican-American political and voter education group, Tejano Democrats, sued Texas in September. Last week, Republicans in Maryland filed two lawsuits challenging that state’s new congressional maps. And on Thursday, a federal court in Illinois upheld the state’s newly redrawn legislative maps.