A federal judge on Thursday ordered members of the Georgia General Assembly to redraw the state’s electoral maps ahead of the 2024 election after determining the current maps unfairly dilute the political power of Black voters.
The landmark ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones is expected to increase the number of majority-Black districts at the state and federal levels and ensure Black voters have greater representation in the state legislature.
Georgia’s increasing Black voter base and growing population led to the ruling, said Georgia ACLU voting rights attorney Caitlin May, who worked on one of the three lawsuits included in the ruling.
“All of the net growth is from voters of color, most of that from Black Georgians, yet the number of districts that are majority Black stayed the same,” she said.
The judge’s order gives state lawmakers a Dec. 8 deadline to create five new majority-Black state House districts and three new majority-Black state Senate districts, May said. The redrawn political maps should result in additional state House and Senate districts located in the southern Atlanta metro area, the western Atlanta metro area and the western Macon metro area.
The case was a win for plaintiffs Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which filed the suit along with the Georgia ACLU in December 2021 after their congressional district was redrawn by state Republican leaders to favor the GOP.
It was also a victory for voting rights advocates and Democrats, who issued statements celebrating the ruling on Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, who serves as chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, says the decision confirms state GOP leaders can’t rely on what many view as racial gerrymandering and voter suppression to maintain their power.
“Georgia Democrats have always fought for a democracy where every single voter’s voice is heard,” Williams said in an emailed statement. “Today’s momentous decision is a step forward in that fight.”
State Rep. Carl Gilliard, head of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, said the ruling increases the ability for Black voters to elect leaders who will have greater influence on policy issues at the state and federal level.
Those issues include creating more affordable housing and increasing economic development that leads to better career opportunities for Black folks across the state.
“This gives us a better chance to have the representation that those Georgians need,” Gilliard said on Thursday.
Primary and general elections to fill the new seats will take place in May and November of next year on the same schedule as other 2024 elections, May said.
There’s a strong possibility that the state will appeal the ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act in June, and a federal court chose a new congressional map for Alabama earlier this month that adds a second district where Black voters constitute a large segment of the electorate.
This story has been updated.