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A federal judge has approved Georgia's newly revised political maps

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A federal judge has approved Georgia's newly revised political maps.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Republican lawmakers drew new districts for Congress and the state legislature after the judge found the old ones illegally diluted the power of Black voters. But the civil rights and religious groups who sued over the maps say the new ones still violate the Voting Rights Act.

MARTIN: WABE's Sam Gringlas has been following this story for us from Atlanta. Sam, good morning.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So first, would you just - would you mind just reminding us of how we got here.

GRINGLAS: This fall, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia's Republican-controlled legislature to create one new majority Black congressional district. Now, many people thought that meant Democrats would gain a seat in Congress, like what happened next door in Alabama, where the courts ordered that map redrawn. But instead, Republicans have managed to preserve their 9-5 advantage in Congress by dismantling a Democratic-voting coalition district in suburban Atlanta. This was a district where Black, Latino and Asian American voters together formed a majority, and now they are split up.

MARTIN: So I imagine that Democrats are frustrated by this ruling, to put it mildly.

GRINGLAS: Yeah. Democrats say they are deeply disappointed and called it a missed opportunity. And for many of them, this fight has been very personal. At the state Capitol earlier this month, State Representative Teddy Reese talked about his grandmother, who was born three decades before the Voting Rights Act.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TEDDY REESE: And she said to me, son, I cleaned floors on my hands and my knees so that you could stand on the House floor of the state Capitol. But that is not possible if all people are not given opportunity to elect those that look like them. We were not ordered back here by Judge Jones to maintain the status quo. We were ordered here to change Georgia's maps so that they reflect the inevitable shift in Georgia's population.

GRINGLAS: A population, Michel, that is diversifying and making Georgia elections more competitive.

MARTIN: But the judge disagreed. I take it that he said that Republicans did the job of adding a Black congressional district.

GRINGLAS: That's right. Judge Jones, an Obama appointee, concluded that lawmakers followed his order. Now, as for whether multiracial coalition districts are protected by the Voting Rights Act, Jones declined to weigh in. He said this case only ever considered Black voters, and any other questions should be argued in another case. Republicans - they cheered that decision and said the judge affirmed what they have been saying all along, that their new maps comply with the Voting Rights Act.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, Sam, describe how the fight in Georgia fits in with all these other redistricting cases in the courts right now.

GRINGLAS: This is a moment when conservatives are testing the bounds of the Voting Rights Act. I talked with Northwestern University law professor Michael Kang, and he says conservatives see an opportunity to narrow the act at a time when it really should be read more expansively, like to protect these multiracial districts, such as the one that's been dismantled in Georgia.

MICHAEL KANG: I think we're in a moment of change for the Voting Rights Act and for race in American politics. We're seeing an increasingly multiracial democracy that the voting rights law that we have wasn't really built to handle very well.

GRINGLAS: But more immediately, which party controls the next Congress is on the line. And with margins so thin, Michel, the shape of every district matters.

MARTIN: That is WABE's Sam Gringlas. Sam, thank you.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.

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