GOP-redrawn Georgia congressional map sent to judge for approval

A Georgia special session to redraw congressional and legislative voting district maps has to ended Thursday after state lawmakers approved a Republican-favored congressional map that targets Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s current district.

The House voted 98-71 to give final passage to a congressional map that preserves a 9-5 edge for Republicans in Georgia’s congressional delegation to Washington

For Georgia Democrats who didn’t get what they want out of a special legislative session to redraw voting districts, their retort Thursday was simple: "We’ll see you in court."

Lawmakers were called into special session after U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in October that Georgia’s congressional, state Senate, and state House maps violate federal law by diluting Black voting power. Jones mandated Black majorities in one additional congressional district, two additional state Senate districts and five additional state House districts. Jones instructed lawmakers to create the new congressional district on metro Atlanta’s western side.

Republicans have already given final passage to a new state Senate map likely to retain Republicans’ current 33-23 majority in that chamber, and a new House map that could cut the GOP majority there by one or two seats from the current 102-78 margin.

Republicans say the plans meet Jones’ requirements to draw more majority-Black districts.

"I think that a lot of time, energy and effort was put in to make sure this complied with the judge's order.  That's what it did and we look forward to moving forward," said Republican Sen. Bo Hatchett, who represents Cornelia.

The House committee rejected a Democratic proposal that would have likely cut the Republican congressional margin by one seat to 8-6, by forcing Republican U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde to run against either U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick or U.S. Rep. Mike Collins. They are both Republicans as well.

All three districting plans must be signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp before they become law.

While Kemp would normally have the last word, that won’t be the case this time. Instead, lawyers for the state and those who successfully sued to overturn earlier GOP-drawn maps will be back before U.S. District Judge Steve Jones on Dec. 20.

They’ll argue whether lawmakers’ actions fulfilled Jones’ earlier order, in which he found congressional and legislative districts approved in 2021 illegally diluted the power of Black voters. If Jones disapproves of the maps, he could appoint a special master to redraw them for the court.

"It looks like a virtual certainty that the special master will have the last say," said Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Stone Mountain Democrat.

Democrats argue that move violates the part of Jones’ order that says lawmakers couldn’t fix the map "by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere."

Democrats’ arguments revolve around the contention that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act protects districts made up of coalitions of nonwhite voters. They point to a 1990 case from Florida’s Hardee County. Republicans say that Jones’ order only protects majority-Black districts.

"They’re interpreting it narrowly, to mean only majority-Black districts, and that’s not the law," said Kareem Crayton, who studies redistricting New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Republicans point to a recent decision by a three-judge panel that included Jones in another Georgia redistricting case that found the words on coalition districts adopted in the 1990 decision on Hardee County by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals were "dicta." That’s a legal term for words that are not part of a binding precedent.

The GOP congressional map creates a new majority-Black district in parts of Fulton, Douglas, Cobb and Fayette counties on Atlanta’s west side. But instead of targeting a Republican, it shifts McBath’s current district into a district tailored for McCormick, stretching from Atlanta’s northern suburbs into its heavily Republican northern mountains.

It’s the second time in two years that Republicans have targeted McBath, a gun control activist. McBath, who is Black, initially won an election in a majority-white district in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Georgia Republicans in 2021 took that district, once represented by Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and drew it into much more Republican territory. At the same time, they made another district more Democratic. McBath jumped into that district and beat Democratic incumbent Carolyn Bordeaux in a 2022 primary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.