U.S. judge upholds Georgia's congressional map in win for Republicans

U.S. judge upholds Georgia's congressional map in win for Republicans

ATLANTA -A federal judge in Georgia upheld a Republican-drawn congressional map on Thursday, rejecting arguments from voting rights groups and Democrats that the latest district lines illegally diluted the voting power of Black residents near Atlanta.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Steve Jones likely ensures that Republicans will maintain their 9-5 advantage among the state’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The court finds that the general assembly fully complied with this court’s order requiring the creation of Black-majority districts in the regions of the state where vote dilution was found,” Jones wrote in the order.

The case is one of several lawsuits whose outcomes could determine which party controls the House after next November’s vote. Democrats need to capture a net of five Republican seats nationally to win back a majority.

Jones, appointed to the bench by former Democratic President Barack Obama, had ordered lawmakers in October to create a new map that included an additional district with a Black majority or near-majority in order to comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

While the state filed an appeal, Republican Governor Brian Kemp also scheduled a special legislative session to comply with the order.

In early December, the Republican-controlled legislature approved a map that added a majority-Black district west of Atlanta. But in doing so, lawmakers also dismantled a nearby district — represented by Democrat Lucy McBath, a Black woman — comprised mostly of minority voters, including Black, Hispanic and Asian residents.

Democrats and voting rights groups had argued that the revised map violated Jones’ ruling, which had said the state could not remedy the problem “by eliminating minority districts elsewhere.” Republicans asserted that their effort complied with the decision because McBath’s district was not majority Black.

“Today’s ruling is a validation of what we put forward,” Jon Burns, the speaker of the Republican-controlled Georgia House of Representatives, said in a statement. “Now we’re going to get back to the work of lowering costs of living, improving education, expanding access to healthcare and delivering results for the people of Georgia.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which helped represent the plaintiffs, disagreed with the ruling.

“Federal law requires an end to vote dilution and a real change for injured voters, not reshuffling the same deck,” Ari Savitzky, a senior ACLU of Georgia attorney, said in a statement. “We will continue to hold the General Assembly accountable until Georgia voters get the maps they deserve.”

It was not immediately clear whether the plaintiffs would appeal the district court’s decision.

The Georgia NAACP, a civil rights group, called the new map an example of “racial gerrymandering.”

“All of Georgia has now been diluted of our voices,” said Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP, who criticized the judge’s ruling. “We respectfully disagree and look forward to further litigation on this issue.”

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