ATLANTA – The Georgia House gave final passage to a new congressional map for the state Thursday, the final act in a weeklong special legislative session called after a federal judge declared the current map violates the Voting Rights Act.
The Republican-controlled House approved the map 98-71, voting along party lines, sending the map to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.
The General Assembly’s Republican majorities already had adopted new maps for the state House and Senate earlier this week, also by party-line votes.
On Thursday, Rep. Rob Leverette, chairman of the House Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, told his House colleagues the new congressional map creates an additional Black-majority district in the western portion of metro Atlanta, complying with an order U.S. District Judge Steve Jones handed down in October.
Georgia’s redrawn 6th Congressional District includes southern and central Fulton County, South Cobb County, eastern Douglas County, and northern Fayette County. Its Black voting-age population is 51.75%.
In addition, Republicans created a second Black-majority district by increasing the Black voting-age population of the already heavily Black 5th District centered in the city of Atlanta to 51.06%.
“It fully complies with Judge Jones’ order,” said Leverette, R-Elberton. “It fulfills our obligation as a General Assembly.”
But House Democrats complained that Republicans are eliminating a “coalition” congressional district by radically altering the boundaries of District 7 centered in Gwinnett County. Under the current map, it is a “minority-opportunity” district where no single minority group is in the majority, but the number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters combined makes up a majority with the political clout to elect a candidate of their choice.
Instead, the new congressional map takes District 7 completely out of Gwinnett County to include North Fulton County; all of heavily Republican Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties; eastern Cherokee County and western Hall County. Its white voting-age population is 75%, while Gwinnett’s minority voters are shifted among several other districts.
The crux of the dispute between Republicans and Democrats was whether Jones ordered the General Assembly not to eliminate minority-opportunity districts in the new map.
Rep. Billy Mitchell, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, predicted the new map will end up in court and that the judge will order another redrawing of the map, this time by a court-appointed special master.
But Leverette said Jones’ order is intended to apply only to Black-majority districts, not to minority-opportunity districts. He cited a case in which the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals declared that the Voting Rights Act does not protect minority-opportunity districts.
“We have not thumbed our noses at (Jones),” Leverette said. “We have done what he told us to do.”
The two new legislative maps also create new Black-majority districts as ordered by Jones. The new House map creates five additional Black-majority districts and the Senate creates two.