Around the country, state legislatures have been crafting new voting maps following release of the 2020 Census data to recalibrate districts with the appropriate number or proportion of residents for each district. Many newly created maps were swiftly challenged by various organizations or political parties that claimed the maps had been redrawn improperly, for example, in a discriminatory fashion so as to dilute the voting power of a particular demographic. Lawsuits addressing those challenges are just now being resolved ahead of the 2022 elections.
Here in Georgia, newly drawn congressional and state legislative districts were challenged in federal court for allegedly violating the Voting Rights Act by unlawfully minimizing the voting strength of African-American Georgians. The court found that the groups bringing the lawsuit were “likely to ultimately prove that certain aspects of the State’s redistricting plans are unlawful,” but the court nonetheless ruled that the potentially discriminatory maps would be allowed in the 2022 elections because changing the maps this close to the election would likely disrupt the electoral process.
The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on maps for other states. Last month, the Court issued a 5-4 decision on a similar situation in Alabama. Earlier, a three-judge panel on a lower court, including two Trump-appointed judges, found that Alabama’s legislature illegally redrew maps to disfavor African-American voters in the state, and the panel ordered the legislature to redo the maps before the election. The Supreme Court decision halted the panel’s order from taking effect before the election, allowing the legislature’s maps to be used, despite their apparent discriminatory nature.
More recently, however, on March 7, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to disturb decisions by state courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania which replaced maps drawn by the respective states’ Republican-controlled legislatures that the courts had determined were drawn to give Republicans an unfair advantage. Although the U.S. Supreme Court did not explain why it sided with the state courts, language in its recent decisions suggests a reluctance to change maps so close to an upcoming election, an important consideration to the federal court in its ruling regarding Georgia’s new maps.
The legality of newly drawn maps will continue to be litigated after this year’s elections. For now it seems, in some states at least, including Georgia, new districts will remain in place for the current elections, even if the courts indicated that such maps could be discriminatory.
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