Georgia Republicans move to cut losses as they propose majority-Black districts in special session

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers will open a special session Wednesday as majority Republicans move to minimize their losses while also trying to increase the number of Black-majority districts to comply with a federal court order.

It's one in a series of redistricting sessions across the South after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1964 Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for Black voters to win changes from courts.

Georgia House Republicans on Tuesday released a map that would likely cost them only two seats from their current 102-78 majority while creating five more majority-Black districts that Democrats would be likely to win. That's because the map would also pair three sets of Democratic incumbents, meaning Democrats would lose three of those members after 2024 elections

And Senate Republicans could improve on that performance — the map they proposed on Monday creates two additional Black-majority voting districts, but would probably retain the GOP's current 33-23 edge in the upper chamber.

Still to come is a new congressional map, where lawmakers have been ordered to draw one new Black-majority seat. Republicans currently hold a 9-5 edge in Georgia's congressional delegation. To try to hold that margin, they'd have to dissolve the only congressional district held by a Democrat that's not majority-Black, Lucy McBath's 7th District in the Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett and Fulton counties.

It’s unclear if that would be legal. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote in his order that Georgia can’t fix its problems “by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere.”

Jones in October ordered Georgia to draw Black majorities in the additional districts, finding that current maps drawn by Republicans after the 2020 Census illegally diluted Black votes. That ruling came after a trial when plaintiffs argued that opportunities for Black voters hadn't increased even though their share of population increased in the state over the previous decade.

“There had been truly massive levels of black population growth and change and yet there was no increase in the number of black majority districts,” said Ari Savitzky, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents some of the plaintiffs.

Because Black voters in Georgia vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, new Black-majority districts will favor the party. But Democratic hopes to gain seats may have been premature.

“Republicans are clearly going to control the process and the outcome," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock, who studies redistricting.

The House map would create one new Black majority district running east from Macon to Milledgeville and a second district running northwest from Macon into Monroe County. It would create two additional Black majority districts in Atlanta's southern suburbs, one in Henry and Clayton counties around Hampton and a second one in Henry County around McDonough and Locust Grove. Finally, a fifth Black-majority district would be created in suburban Douglas County west of Atlanta.

Only the Macon-to-Milledgeville district would have a current incumbent, Republican Ken Vance of Milledgeville. The other four would be open seats in 2024.

Paired House Democrats would include Saira Draper and Becky Evans of Atlanta, Teri Anulewicz and Doug Stoner of Smyrna, and Sam Park and Greg Kennard of Lawrenceville. One set of Republicans would be paired, David Knight of Griffin and Beth Camp of Concord.

Under Georgia law, state legislators must have lived in their districts for a year before they are elected. Because 2024’s election is less than a year away, it’s too late for anyone to move to another district to run.

The Senate map doesn’t pair any incumbents. It increases the number of Black majority districts by eliminating two white-majority districts currently represented by Democrats — State Sens. Jason Esteves and Elena Parent, both of Atlanta.

Democrats released their own Senate map Wednesday. It would convert two Republican districts held by Sens. Marty Harbin of Tyrone and Brian Strickland of McDonough into majority-Black districts. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain said the Republican Senate plan doesn't meet the terms of the court order.

“Instead of remedying the specific Voting Rights Act violations identified by the court in the specific areas identified by the court, the Republican proposal primarily moves Black voters living outside of the areas in which the court found Voting Rights Act violations into majority-Black districts,” Butler said in a statement.

That's an argument aimed at Jones. The state has pledged to appeal the federal judge's order. If the state later wins an appeal, Georgia could have new districts in 2024 and revert to current lines in 2026. But for now, it's Jones, and not Republicans, who will decide whether lawmakers complied with his order.

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press