Judge allows use of new Georgia political maps this year

ATLANTA — A federal judge has said that if parts of Georgia’s redistricting plans are likely to violate federal law, he will allow new congressional and state legislative maps to be used for this year’s election because changes at this stage would be too disruptive.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ 238-page ruling came Monday night in three lawsuits challenging the newly drawn districts that were crafted by state lawmakers and signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. The lawsuits, brought by African-American organizations and individual voters, allege the cards weaken the growing electoral strength of communities of color in violation of federal suffrage law.

The plaintiffs had filed motions for preliminary injunctions seeking, among other things, to prevent the state from using the new cards in any election, including this year’s midterm elections. Jones presided over a six-day hearing on those motions last month.

He wrote in his order that he believes the plaintiffs “have shown that they are capable of ultimately proving that certain aspects of the state’s redistricting plans are unlawful.” But he said changes to that date are “likely to significantly disrupt the electoral process”.

“The Court finds that the public interest of the State of Georgia would be significantly impaired by altering the election schedule and untying the election process at this point,” Jones wrote. He added that evidence “showed that elections are complex and electoral calendars are finely calibrated processes, and significant upheaval and voter confusion can result if changes are made late in the process.”

He noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that lower federal courts should not change election rules “on the eve of an election.”

He also said he was concerned about a “whiplash” effect if he decided the cards should only be changed to be struck down by the appellate courts. This “could create even more confusion among voters and a loss of confidence in the electoral system.”

Jones mentioned a similar challenge to the new maps in Alabama in which the US Supreme Court last month stayed a lower court ruling that the state must redraw its congressional districts ahead of the 2022 election to increase black voting power.

The three-judge lower court said in its unanimous decision in late January that groups of voters who sued Alabama’s cards would likely succeed in showing the state violated voting rights law. In reversing that decision, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, who are part of the Conservative majority, said the lower court’s order for a new map was too close to the 2022 election cycle.

Alabama’s primary is set for May 24, like Georgia’s.

But Jones warned in his order that “this is an interim and not a final decision and should not be taken as an indication of how the Court will ultimately rule on the merits at trial.”

“In the specific circumstances of this case, the Court believes that to proceed with the maps adopted for the 2022 electoral cycle is the right decision. But it is a difficult decision. And it is a decision that the Court has not taken lightly,” Jones wrote. .

Sean Young, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which represents some of the plaintiffs, expressed optimism after Jones’ decision.

“We are encouraged that the court has agreed that the state-enacted cards likely violate voting rights law, and we look forward to proving it at trial,” he said in a press release. . “Georgian voters deserve fair elections, and we will never stop fighting to protect the sacred and fundamental right to vote.”

Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger applauded the decision, calling the plaintiffs’ demands “unreasonable, impractical and unsupported by law.”

“Georgia’s maps are fair and adhere to traditional redistricting principles, and I look forward to defending them in this case and before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement. hurry.

The three lawsuits at issue are among at least five that have been filed challenging Georgia’s new maps.

A complaint filed by the ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia on behalf of Alpha Phi Alpha Fellowship, the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and several individual voters claims that the new Senate and House maps of the State does not include other majority-minority districts that would allow black voters to elect their preferred candidates. Instead, according to the suit, black voters are heavily concentrated in certain districts or split into predominantly white districts.

A lawsuit filed by Democratic attorney Marc Elias on behalf of a group of voters challenges specific state House and Senate districts and says lawmakers should have drawn three more majority state Senate districts minority and five other majority-minority state House districts.

Another lawsuit filed by Elias on behalf of another group of voters challenges certain congressional districts, saying there should be an additional majority-minority district in the west Atlanta metro area.

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