Georgia Democrats are challenging Republican-drawn legislative districts on the novel grounds that the Voting Rights Act protects white voters as well as blacks, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said today.
Abrams, the keynote speaker at a University of Georgia Law School civil rights symposium, accused Republicans of intentionally targeting white Democrats.
“Essentially, what’s being created is a white Republican Party and a black Democratic Party,” the Atlanta Democrat said.
The Republican-drawn maps, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday, pair six white and six black incumbents in the same House districts. They will eliminate nine of 20 white Democrats in the House and the last remaining rural white Democrat in the Senate, Abrams said.
“We believe this can’t be accidental, so we are calling this map re-segregation,” she said.
Republicans have chafed at such accusations and say they’re only following the law. They say their maps preserve 49 majority-minority House districts as required by the Voting Rights Act, and GOP leaders expect no trouble getting federal clearance to put them in place.
The pairings were the result of slow population growth in South Georgia and urban Atlanta compared to the North Georgia suburbs, Republicans say.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against the type of “crossover districts” Abrams is advocating, according to state Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta. Both Lindsey and Abrams are lawyers.
State legislatures redraw districts every decade to equalize their populations based on new Census data.
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to stop segregationists in nine Southern and Western states, including Georgia, from disenfranchising minority voters. Key components bar lawmakers from drawing convoluted districts to pack African-Americans together or artificially diluting their voting strength by spreading large black communities among several districts.
The U.S. Justice Department or a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., will determine whether the district maps violate the Voting Rights Act. Whichever side loses will sue in federal court, Abrams said.
While challenging the legality of the GOP’s district lines, Abrams acknowledged that Republicans have the right to maximize their political advantage, as Democrats did when they were in charge in 2001. But that doesn’t make it right, she said.
“Democrats screwed it up when we had it, and Republicans are screwing it up now,” she said.
The proposed House map would create 121 Republican-leaning seats and 59 drawn for Democrats — enough GOP votes for the party to unilaterally override vetos and put constitutional amendments on the ballot. If Republicans had left Democrats the 63 seats they have now, Democrats would not be challenging the map, Abrams said.
Such overreaching, as she called it, is contributing to the state’s political polarization because it removes any incentive for the two parties to cooperate. She called on voters to kick out extreme lawmakers on both sides.
“We let the people who scream the loudest on either end control the dialog.” she said.