As the result of a ruling by Federal District Court Judge, Steve Jones, throwing out the current Georgia legislative maps the Georgia General Assembly will hold a special session beginning Wednesday, November 29th.
Having served from 2013 until 2021, I never had to live through the absolute horror of a redistricting session. But oh have I heard the stories, neigh, ghoulish tales of of such sessions where every legislator learns exactly where they stand in the pecking order that doesn’t differ too greatly from the environment of a high school cafeteria. Jocks to left, nerds to the right, and a whole bunch of people just hoping to survive the day so they can do it all again tomorrow.
In his ruling, Judge Jones said that the Georgia Legislative maps, including those drawn for our Congressional Delegation, do not allow for enough districts that are majority African American. At the Congressional level Judge Jones said that at least 5 of the 14 districts would need to be redrawn, in addition to 10 of 56 in the State Senate, and 11 of 180 in the State House.
The problem with tweaking only some districts is that you have to maintain an equal population in each. Once you start, it is hard to leave other districts alone completely because the math needs to work. Take some from here and you will need to add them back from somewhere else. This is especially gnarly at the Congressional level because the mandate is that all districts must be exactly the same, down to the last person, while at the state level is there is a little bit of wiggle room.
Judge Jones’s ruling was heavy on race as a key criteria for deciding where the lines should be drawn, but was light on other areas of common interest, such as socio-economic status. Such is the Voters’ Rights Act. But with that type of guidance, the map makers at the Capitol have sharpened their pencils, if not their knives. Insert a proverb about the many ways to skin a cat here.
A few weeks ago on the podcast, I engaged in wild and unfounded speculation that this doesn’t mean that the margins between Republicans and Democrats would change under the Gold Dome but instead could see some Democrats have their districts redrawn to be majority African American. Yesterday the Chair of the Senate Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting released the first draft of maps that made that type of wild and unfounded speculation look like I possessed that Sports Almanac from Back to the Future part II.
Georgia Public Broadcasting’s political reporter, Stephen Fowler, appears to have the clearest analysis of the proposed State Senate map that I have seen so far.
According to the data reported by the Atlanta Regional Commission on the demographics of Senator Elena Parent’s currently configured District 42, the African American population will go from 29% to being a majority. Similarly, Senator Jason Esteves, who is African American, will see his district go from 23% African American to being a majority. As Fowler astutely points out, no incumbent is really in any danger unless there is a fresh and ambitious voice who wants to take on a sitting Senator in a primary.
The balance of power between the parties will remain the same in the upper chamber with 23 Democrats to 33 Republicans. Cat skinned, just in a different way.
On the House side, things are moving at a more genteel pace and no maps have emerged just yet. But I would expect that a similar logic used by the Senate will be employed when the time comes. But first, there will be public hearings! The House Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting announced they will hold their first hearing, ahead of the unveiling of any proposed maps, on the first day of the special session at 1:00 PM. Details can be found here, including a link to the live stream.
Judge Jones said at least one additional Congressional District must be made a majority African American. But which one? When it comes to the Congressional Maps, it appears that no one is telling our Congressional Delegation what to expect just yet. My sources tell me that congressional staffers have been told not to expect to see maps until after the State House and Senate Maps are done. I imagine it must be a particularly nerve racking time for them because the maps must change and no matter what happens. So several of our members of Congress will have a different district than they have now. This is a result of the State not asking for a stay pending the appeal of Judge Jones’s decision to toss the current maps.
Had the state asked for a stay pending an appeal of Judge Jones’s ruling, the current maps would have very likely stayed in place for 2024. But the state opted to, as I am told, save that bullet for later in the event that Judge Jones takes issue with the new maps and tosses those too.
Not to mention the specter of national implications, with Democrats needing just 5 more seats in the U.S. House to take over the chamber. Want to see Georgia remain at the center of the political universe for just a while longer?
At this point, if the House follows the same logic the Senate is using, creating more majority African American districts but maintain the balance of power, it is going to be difficult for Judge Jones to not appear to be anything less than a partisan hack in this. His stated goal was more districts with a majority of African Americans, not more Democrats. The first salvo in response appears to meet that complaint head on, even if the cat has been skinned differently than some would have hoped.