Georgia's Redistricting News
Democrat: "Redistricting Fight Price Tag Tops $2 Million."
August 3, 2004
The legal battle over redistricting for the General Assembly seats has reached a price tag of nearly $2.3 million - mostly for attorney fees.
According to documents filed in federal court Monday, the lawyers who represented the original Republican plaintiffs are asking that the state pay them almost $742,000 for legal fees and expenses. The attorney who represented Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, has billed for more than $764,000.
The three federal judges who ruled for the GOP and who oversaw the drawing of new districts have told the state to pay nearly $356,000 to the experts who drew the current maps.
State lawyers are reviewing the fees and could challenge the amount, said Russ Willard, spokesman for Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
"The Republicans sued the state and obviously had some success, so it was certainly not a frivolous lawsuit," said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, an attorney who was vice chairwoman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.
But state Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, said he did not think it was "a wise and prudent use of the taxpayers' money."
The 29 Republicans who sued claimed they had been disenfranchised under legislative maps drawn by Democrats who controlled the Legislature and the governor's office in 2001 and 2002. Those maps had overpopulated suburban districts that usually favor GOP candidates, but underpopulated and spread out districts in more Democratic territory.
A three-judge federal panel signed off Thursday on redistricting maps it ordered drawn independently for the Georgia Legislature after lawmakers failed to draw new maps for themselves.
The three judges ordered the state to "promptly implement" the maps for this year's elections.
Drawn for the court under the direction of former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Joseph W. Hatchett, the maps will replace those drawn by lawmakers in 2001 and used in the 2002 elections but invalidated last month by the court.
The court declared that the maps violated the one person, one vote principal by packing too many voters in some precincts and too few in others, essentially to keep the rural Democrats who drew them in power.
The maps helped Democrats retain control of the House in the 2002 election but Republicans gained control of the Senate that year when a newly elected Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, persuaded four Democrats to change parties.
Both sides claimed the court-drawn maps give them an edge going into this year's elections.
"Republicans now have an opportunity to claim control of the House, but they'll have to earn it," said Republican Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah, the president pro tem of the Senate.
House Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, insisted Democrats will keep control of the lower chamber. "It looks like we're around 100 or better, the way our folks look at it," he said. It takes 91 votes to wield a majority in the 180-member chamber.
Another Democrat, Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, chairman of the chamber's redistricting committee, said the court maps give Democrats a chance to regain the Senate.
"The Senate is within reach. We might come back with both houses," she said.
The state's primary is July 20. Qualifying opens on April 26.
State lawyers told the court earlier this week it can implement the plan without changing those dates but may not be able to comply with a rule requiring absentee ballots to be made available 45 days before an election.
The old redistricting plan was tossed out as a result of a lawsuit filed by Republican activists. Georgia lawmakers were given a March 1 deadline to draw new maps of their own or face one drawn by the court.
The Republican-controlled Senate easily passed a new map for itself but the Democrat-led House dawdled and never put either the Senate map or one for the House to a vote.
One of the major stumbling blocks for Democrats was their desire to hang onto multimember districts, super-sized districts from which up to four legislators _ many of them black _ were elected to numbered posts.
Senate leaders along with Perdue already had said they would not approve any new House map that included multimember districts. Democrats couldn't get the votes to take them out.
The court-drawn map abolishes all multimember districts.
The maps approved Thursday were not the ones initially unveiled by the court's mapmakers.
The first proposal drew sharp criticism from both parties during a period allowed for public comment because more than a third of incumbent lawmakers found they were paired with a fellow legislator.
The court's initial instructions had been to draw maps that did not consider where incumbents lived. It subsequently reversed that position so that the final map leaves only about 40 paired incumbents, down from nearly 90.
In Thursday's order, the court said it was satisfied that the decision to take some incumbents out of competition with others was handled "on a consistent and strictly neutral basis" in the final drawing of the map.
The governor's spokesman, Dan McLagan, praised the new maps. "The stain of the Democratic gerrymandering has finally been washed away. These maps are fair and that's all we ever asked for or needed. It's a great day for Georgia and democracy."
Just inland from Johnson's coastal district, Democratic Sen. Rene Kemp of Hinesville bested a GOP challenger by a comfortable six points.
Now, thanks to new legislative district maps proposed last week by a three-judge federal-court panel, the two veterans could be forced to face each other this November.
It's unquestionably a tougher challenge for both, particularly for Kemp because the new Senate District 3 favors the Republicans.
But to good-government advocate Bill Bozarth, the district's voters would come out winners because they would have a clear choice when they go to the polls.
"Instead of being in safe seats, these guys are going to have to debate, present ideas and see who is better suited to represent that part of Georgia,'' said Bozarth, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. "I think that's refreshing.''
That same dynamic will play out all across Georgia this year if the judges' redistricting plans for the state House and Senate become the law of the land.
Maps from lawsuit
The panel released the maps last Monday. The new maps were needed after the same court in February rejected the legislative districts in effect since 2002, declaring them an unconstitutional violation of the one-person, one-vote principle.
Democrats, in charge of both chambers at the time, maximized Democratic voting strength by packing Republicans into as few districts as possible while spreading out Democrats among as many smaller districts as possible.
The judges' maps could be finalized during a hearing Monday, the culmination of a one-week public comment period.
In redrawing the maps, the court threw together 86 incumbents and formed dozens more open districts. The judges got rid of the multi-member districts created by House Democrats two years ago and reshaped an array of sprawling Senate districts into compact ones based on county lines.
Besides wreaking havoc with a lot of lawmakers' careers, political observers say the proposed maps unquestionably favor the Republicans. After all, it was GOP activists who brought the lawsuit challenging the 2002 districts.
"The Democrats drew the maps, saying with no hesitation, 'We're gerrymandering here to make Democrats as strong as possible,'" said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who has worked as a consultant for the Democrats during redistricting in the past. "Any other maps that come along are going to be less skewed toward the Democrats.''
Scott Rials, executive director of the Georgia Republican Party, said the GOP expects to increase its current 30-26 majority in the state Senate running under the new maps.
Republicans are basing their projections on results from a 2002 Public Service Commission election featuring a little known GOP challenger. The concept is that votes in favor of such a candidate likely represent the party's core support.
Based on the same data, Rials expects House Republicans, who now hold only 71 of 180 seats, to at least cut into the Democrats' hold on power, positioning the GOP to take control of the lower chamber in two to four years.
"Since 1994, more people have voted for Republican legislators than Democrats,'' he said. "Now that we have no more than 1 percent deviation, you will see a shift.''
Democrats still confident
But Emil Runge, spokesman for the Georgia Democratic Party, isn't buying the Republicans' gloom-and-doom forecast for legislative Democrats.
In fact, Democratic projections based on several statewide 2002 victories by Democrats show that the party should capture at least 100 House seats this fall.
"I think the voters of Georgia will respond to Democrats' message promoting job creation and improving education,'' Runge said. "We just need to make sure to find the right candidates.''
Indeed, the new maps would force candidate recruiters from both parties to fan out looking for new blood to fill 11 open Senate seats and nearly four dozen unoccupied House districts. It's a rare opportunity for county commissioners, school board members and even political neophytes to run for state office.
Conversely, some of the 20 senators and 66 House members suddenly thrown into districts with colleagues would have to take a hard look at whether to seek re-election or retire.
Beyond the ramifications for either the parties or individual politicians, however, Bullock sees great potential in the court-ordered redistricting to reverse in Georgia a national political trend.
"It gives voters more choices,'' said Bullock. "The American system has been moving toward creation of districts that are overwhelmingly one party. We'll see more competition.''
Johnson, now serving as Senate president pro tempore, said more competitive districts could lead to a more moderate legislature. He complained two years ago that the current maps had created such partisan districts that voters were more likely to elect either the most conservative or the most liberal candidates.
"Competitive (districts) by nature bring a moderating influence on legislators,'' Johnson said. "You've got to appeal to a broader spectrum of people to be elected.''
Johnson said the new districts' advantages could also extend beyond the political season into the process of governing. He said compact districts that keep cities and counties together are easier to represent because lawmakers don't have to track as many groups of constituents with different interests.
"More compact districts should lessen the diversification of issues,'' he said.
Compact districts also would make it easier for voters to know their legislators.
House Speaker Pro Tempore DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, said that recognition factor would make the new compact districts particularly helpful to lawmakers seeking re-election in rural counties.
"Rural districts have incumbents who connect with their local communities,'' he said.
For that reason, Porter expects rural incumbents to have an easier time than their urban colleagues living with the new maps. He expects more competition in newly drawn urban districts, where incumbents are identified more by political ideology than whether they've helped a local school district or industry.
The three federal judges in Atlanta who are overseeing the redrawing of Georgia's legislative district boundaries are having a busy weekend ahead of a momentous week.
ï Friday deadline when they received legal briefs commenting on the maps drawn by a redistricting expert for the court
ï Weekend time to review comments to decide which requested changes should be made
ï Monday afternoon hearing with the redistricting expert on which recommendations to accept
ï Tuesday hearing with lawyers for Secretary of State Cathy Cox on administrative and scheduling changes prompted by the new maps
ï Tuesday or later when the court is expected to rule on the final design of the boundaries
Source: lawyers involved in the case
It is impossible to read the February ruling without concluding that the real reason the panel invalidated Georgia's 2001 House map and the Senate's 2002 plan was because they were seen as partisan gerrymanders designed to ensure the re-election of Democrats and the ousting of Republicans.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that partisan gerrymandering might violate the Fourteenth Amendment, but only when a plan "will consistently degrade a voter's or a group of voters' influence on the political process as a whole."
In practice, the "consistently degrade" standard has proved so difficult to meet that it has become dead-letter law.
Notably, federal courts in Texas and Pennsylvania have dismissed similar partisan gerrymander claims by Democrats on the grounds that as long as the challengers could register, vote, and campaign for office, they had no basis to complain.
Georgia is pursuing an appeal of the February ruling. A successful appeal would invalidate the redistricting plans presented by the three-judge panel on Tuesday.
Those redistricting plans are problematic for at least one other reason.
They pair senior members of the black legislative caucus, such as Atlanta Reps. Tyrone Brooks and Bob Holmes, in the same district. This suggests that African-American voters who strongly supported both members will be deprived of seniority in the House, causing a retrogression in their voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
For two weeks, a former federal judge, a
Pennsylvania law professor and their assistants have been toiling in the
fourth-floor office of a government building near the Georgia Capitol.
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the state of Georgia's request to postpone a judgement requiring lawmakers to redraw legislative maps before this years elections.
The decision was another victory for Republican state legislators, virtually assuring that maps being redrawn by the states divided government will be used in the July 20 primary elections _ not maps drawn by Democratic majorities in 2001.
It is great news for the constitutional principle of one person, one vote, Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, said in a statement. It is great news for the many communities that have been torn apart by the current district maps.
The people of our state deserve legislative districts that are fair and square.
The high court denied the stay in a one-sentence order handed down late Thursday afternoon.
The stay had been sought by state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat.
The order does not close the door on legal action. Baker could continue with an appeal of the decision.
But shortly after Thursdays order, Baker, a Democrat, was urging lawmakers to complete their work of redrawing district lines _ saying the three-judge panel that originally overturned them would draw the maps otherwise.
The attorney general is not foreclosing any legal options, but he encourages the General Assembly and the governor to draw maps or the three-judge court will be drawing maps for them, said Baker spokesman Russ Willard.
The two parties clashed over the maps, which majority Democrats drew to boost their numbers and try to reduce Republican gains in Congress and the Legislature.
Republicans sued over the plans, saying they violated the one-man, one-vote principle by packing Republican voters as tightly as legally possible, while spreading Democratic voters throughout as many districts as possible.
A three-judge federal panel agreed with the Republicans, ruling that Democrats went too far in trying to suppress the GOPs voting power.
In its ruling, the court said lawmakers made no effort to make the districts as equal as possible because districts varied in population by 9.98 percent. The court asked for new maps by March 1.
Democrats challenged the ruling because earlier court rulings have let stand districts that varied less than 10 percent. Democrats say 23 states have legislative districts that vary as much as Georgias.
Baker also asked the court to let current maps be used in this years elections _ saying the legislature will not have enough time to craft new maps.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided there was no reason to put a hold on the earlier ruling.
In the Legislature, the Republican-dominated Senate already has approved a new map for that chamber.
The House is considering a plan in a committee, and could vote on the plan as early as next week.
Both chambers have incentive to draw maps because the court will not take incumbency for either party or either chamber into effect when drawing maps, Willard said.
Republicans have decried recent court actions on issues such as same-sex marriage, saying judges should not be interfering in legislative duties.
But they say Thursdays order is welcome because they got an unfair shake in the 2001 maps.
Its extremely disappointing for conservatives to turn over the process to a federal court, but were appreciative of this on behalf of the citizens that new lines will be drawn one way or another, said Senate President pro-tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah.
Rural Georgia has held a grip on the stateís political scene since
the horse-and-buggy days, surviving even a federal court ruling four
decades ago which struck down an electoral system designed to perpetuate
When court-appointed redistricting
experts draw new election districts for state House and Senate seats, they
will not take into account where incumbents live, according to an order
The U.S. Supreme Court refused Thursday to
stay a lower-court ruling that Georgia must have different legislative
districts for elections this summer and fall.
With only one day left in the Georgia legislative session before the March 1 deadline to redo political district maps, there are no maps to vote on. Local legislators say they are still unsure what is going to happen if new proposals are not voted on today.
Federal judges have ordered Georgia to redraw its state House and Senate maps, saying Democrats unfairly tried to pack Republican voters into small districts to decrease the numbers they could send to the Legislature. House Democrats delayed a vote Wednesday on a proposal.
"It's frustrating from the standpoint that the budget is the number one issue we're trying to take care of," said Rep. Jay Roberts, a Republican who serves part of Tift County and all of Irwin, Ben Hill and Wilcox counties. "I think the courts are looking to set a precedent that 23 or 24 other states could be affected by this ruling."
There will be no session on Friday, so if no maps are voted on in the legislature today, the United States District Court will likely draw their own political maps. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican who serves part of Tift and Colquitt Counties and all of Worth and Turner counties, hopes that does not happen.
"I hope we're able to vote on a map tomorrow," Scott said Wednesday afternoon. "If the courts draw it up, we have no control over it."
Currently, Tift County is split into three districts which are served by Scott, Roberts and Rep. Penny Houston, a Democrat. Both of the new maps offered by Republicans and Democrats have the county split into only two districts. However, the Democratic offering has Scott and Roberts in the same district with Houston in the other district. The Republican map has Scott in one district and Roberts in the other with Houston's district not included in Tift County.
Roberts is skeptical that the Democratic map will pass.
"If (the Democratic map) does pass, Governor Perdue has already said he won't sign any map with multi-member districts," Roberts said. "The Democratic map still has 23 multi-member districts. The Republican map doesn't have any."
In the House 91 votes are needed to pass a new map, a constitutional majority of the 180-member House.
The Reapportionment Committee plans to meet again today to try to pass a map that makes the districts more equal in population. The map would still have to clear a second committee and the full House, then be approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Perdue.
"The Court could either grant a stay, and we'd basically have the same districts we have now, or it could uphold the lower court's decision," Roberts said.
Houston said Wednesday that she would support the Republican map over the Democrat version, which splits Cook County into two districts. Currently, Houston serves all of Cook County.
"The combination of redistricting and the budget takes away from getting other things done," Scott said. "The budget is critical and requires a lot of attention. At this point, we're not trying to add any new things for our districts. We're just trying to keep things from being taken out."
Sen. Ed Harbison (D - Columbus), chairman of the Georgia
Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC), today held a press conference along with
other members of the GLBC in which he released the following
The state Legislature
probably won't meet a federal court deadline to submit new maps of state
House and Senate election districts by Monday, officials said
Redistricting starts over after court tosse
Legislature given March 1 deadline
February 17, 2004
A panel of three federal judges scrapped the Georgia Legislatureís 2001 redistricting plan and has set a March 1 deadline to redraw state House and Senate districts.
The Feb. 10 ruling was handed down in a lawsuit brought by 29 Republican voters who claimed the 2001 redistricting, engineered by then-Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, violated their voting rights. The court agreed, saying the new districts were drawn with the intent to dilute Republican voting strength and maximize Democratic voting strength.
This was accomplished primarily by using computers to model voting habits and drawing districts that used legally allowed deviations in population to make larger Republican districts and therefore fewer in number while making Democratic districts smaller, and therefore generating more seats.
Deviation is that amount of population a district is allowed to have above or below the average number of voters in all districts. Typically the deviation has been 5 percent above or below the average. By making all Republican districts 5 percent above the average, and all Democratic districts 5 percent below. The democratically controlled process created districts that did not accurately represent the people of Georgia as whole.
Rural Georgia districts and Atlanta were given in effect larger representation than their population warranted, the judges said.
The ruling could have consequences all over the country, triggering a host of similar lawsuits, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock III.
"This may be the first time the courts have lifted up the veil of deviation and looked at the motives for the creation of these districts,î said Bullock.
In other words, the court said these districts were not created for compactness, to follow county lines or any of the other reasons that allow for deviation from the perfect district. A certain amount of "reasonablenessî was allowed in creating these districts, and they stood the test of time and courts, Bullock said.
But now the court has said these districts were not created for any of those reasons but to create a bias in representation that gives one party leverage over another. In making this ruling, the court broke new ground.
"You could see similar lawsuits all over the country challenging redistricting in many states,î he said.
Heretofore, the courts had not delved into the possible political motivations of redistricting. As long as the principle of one man, one vote was observed, and no districts were drawn to put racial minorities at a disadvantage, the in-party could dictate redistricting to the out-party.
"For 40 years or more, the presumption was, you were not violating equal protection, youíre all right. What this decision does is look beyond that and says, ëYes it is right at the acceptable limits of 5 percent plus- or minus-deviation, and the reasons you did this were unacceptable.í They had bad motivations,î Bullock said.
There is quite a bit of speculation whether the Legislature could draw up new redistricting maps in time to meet the March 1 deadline. The Senate passed on a new Senate map in the 2003 session, but it died in the House.
"At least the Senate has a starting place,î said Bullock. "But there may not be sufficient inducements for the Republicans to draw a new map. They can come out ahead whether the House and Senate draw it or the court does. Republicans have no real reason to work with them and compromise.î
On the other hand, Democrats who want a say in the redistricting will have to try to work with the Republicans.
Judgesí ruling at a glance
What the judges did: Georgia state House and Senate districts were ordered redrawn. The General Assembly has a March 31 deadline to accomplish this or the judges will draw the districts themselves.
What led to the decision: In a lawsuit brought by voters, the three federal judges hearing the case decided composition of the districts violated the constitutional principle of one man, one vote. In packing Republican districts with 5 percent more voters than the average district, and spreading out Democratic districts with 5 percent fewer voters, the redistricting plan showed a calculated strategy to dilute the voting strength of one party over another.
Clear winners: This is a victory for the Republicans who hold a slim majority of seats in the Senate (30-26) and only 40 percent of the Houseís 180 seats (72). Redistricting gerrymandered some Republican incumbents out of office and created artificial Democratic majorities in other districts.
Elections should go on: The court has ruled the redistricting must be accomplished by March 1 to allow time for approval of the districts by the U.S. Justice Department and qualifying for the July primaries. If the Legislature cannot agree on a redistricting plan, the federal panel of judges will draw its own map.
In either case, the new districts would be used in the 2004 elections.
Appeal possible: State Attorney General Thurbert Baker must decide whether to appeal the decision. If Baker, a Democrat, does appeal, an expedited decision will be given. Meanwhile, the House and Senate will start preparing their maps in the event the appeal is denied.
Republican legislators testified before federal judges Wednesday that they were stunned at how much politics influenced the special 2001 legislative session on redistricting.
"It was partisan from the get-go," Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said. "What was surprising was the brutality [by the Democrats]. There was no reaching out to us.
"When the maps were released, we were shocked at the creativity that went into it," said Johnson, one of three Republican legislators called to testify Wednesday in a GOP lawsuit challenging the varying sizes of legislative and congressional districts.
Twenty-nine Republicans filed suit last year, claiming that GOP voters were packed into as few districts as possible. Today, the state begins its defense in the case.
The GOP took control of the state Senate after the election of Republican Sonny Perdue as governor, but not until four Democratic senators switched parties after the November 2002 election.
One of the four, Sen. Dan Lee (R-LaGrange), said Wednesday he had been cut out of the redistricting process, even though he was a Democrat when the maps were drawn.
Lee testified that the maps were drawn at state Democratic Party offices. "What we had before us was a map prepared by people who were not elected," he said.
The design of his Senate district, which touches on 12 counties and reaches halfway across the state, helped him decide to leave the Democrats, he said. Lee said he didn't want to be associated with people who would do such "evil."
A lawyer for the state, David Walbert, asked whether Lee should have told voters he was changing parties before he asked them to re-elect him. "Why wouldn't they have been entitled to the trust?"
Lee responded: "I've never had one person say to me, 'Dan, I wish I had known.' It didn't matter."
Georgia Republicans, already in control of the state Senate, will argue in federal court in Atlanta today that Democratic-drawn political districts are unconstitutional.
The GOP lawsuit contends that Democrats compromised the one-person, one-vote guarantee in the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly, which convenes Monday, stands ready to resume its partisan fight over congressional and legislative redistricting, formerly a once-a-decade issue but now an annual fight as the party in power tries to increase its numbers.
Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist, predicted Republicans would win the portion on congressional districts.
"We may have some different-looking congressional districts . . . this fall," Bullock said, although "the legislative districts are less likely to change because there's no [court] precedent."
Higher appeal likely
Experts agree that the losing side in the case probably will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to speak to the issue.
Republicans, who control the state Senate 30-26, represent eight of Georgia's 13 congressional districts.
In pre-trial sessions, the three federal judges have noted the timing of the start of the legislative session, six days later. They say they hope to have a decision soon to give lawmakers time to make any changes.
The lawsuit, to be argued before two U.S. District Court judges and a judge from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was brought by 29 Republicans last January, when the GOP's Sonny Perdue was sworn in as governor. The plaintiffs say that the lines drawn in 2001 -- when Democrats controlled the governor's office and Legislature -- resulted in disproportionately sized districts.
Federal law demands as close to zero deviation as possible. The optimum number for a Georgia congressional district was 629,727.
One district, the 5th, hit that number. Others came within two, three or five people of that number and two more came within eight each. The one with the largest deviation, 37 people over the optimum, was the 4th District.
Legislative districts have greater leeway. Courts have ruled that the number of people in a state House or Senate district can be 5 percent over or under what is considered an optimum size.
The Republicans have argued that Democrats pushed that limit in 2001 by spreading its voters over as many districts as possible while packing GOP voters into as few as possible.
"The voting strength of [some] citizens . . . is severely diluted, as citizens in other purported districts have disproportionately greater voting strength," according to the GOP lawsuit.
"It was just a lot of screwy things that went on, and I think the courts want to take a look at it," said state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharspburg). Westmoreland, who resigned as House minority leader because he is running for Congress this year, will be one of the witnesses called in the hearing.
"With computers the way they are now," the number of people in each legislative and congressional district could be virtually equal, Westmoreland said. "I think the Republicans will do well."
In several states, the argument has been that politically motivated redistricting unfairly empowered voters in one political party at the expense of those in the other.
"These cases are going to force the [federal] courts to confront the question" of gerrymandering, said M. David Gelfand, a Tulane University expert in constitutional law and redistricting who has been involved in such cases in Florida and Louisiana.
Most of the mid-decade redistricting, UGA's Bullock said, seems to be in states in which the party in control of the Legislature and the governor's office during redistricting after the 2000 census "went out of its way" to push out the other party. Those states include Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Michigan. In early December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a Pennsylvania case in which Democrats argued that Republicans abused their power by drawing congressional districts to try to maximize the number of Republicans elected to office. Republicans said that nothing is wrong with partisan politics in redistricting.
A Texas redistricting fight encouraged by the White House and funded by national Republicans last year is now before the courts there. Democratic legislators could not stop it, so they sued.
The redrawing of political boundaries to reflect the latest census data is "much too important to let rest," Perdue told an audience recently.
"The people of Georgia are continually offended by the redistricting map that was thrust upon them in the 2001 special session," the governor said. "They've been cut up and carved up. They have no idea where their representation is and how far it goes."
But state Rep. Carolyn Fleming Hughley (D-Columbus), chairwoman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee, said she has not heard any public outcry for lawmakers to redraw the maps, which established new boundaries for Georgia's state House, state Senate and congressional districts.
Hughley also said the timing is not right for legislators to revisit redistricting.
"Right now, we're waiting for the results of a court case," she said. "It would be confusing, in my mind, for us to act with that looming out there."
A lawsuit filed this year in Atlanta by more than two dozen Republicans claims that the districts drawn in 2001 are unconstitutional because they do not ensure that all districts have the same number of people under the one-person, one-vote principle.
In a separate case, the U.S. Supreme Court in June set new redistricting standards and told a three-judge panel in Washington to look again at Georgia's 2001 state Senate plan. The state is waiting to see if those judges will hold more hearings or will approve or reject the map based on the information they have. In sending the case back, the Supreme Court said that the Democrats' redistricting plan, which spread black voters across more districts, did not appear to dilute minority voting strength.
Republicans contend that Democrats, who controlled both houses of the General Assembly in 2001, passed a self-serving Senate map that split 88 counties and 241 voting precincts.
The Senate this year approved a new Senate map, which the House, controlled by Democrats, refused to consider.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor thinks legislators do not need to spend time in the 2004 session on redistricting, Taylor spokeswoman Kristi Huller said. "We think there are more important things that the state should be addressing," Huller said, including budget cuts and health care for children.
Merle Black, an Emory University professor of political science, said Perdue is not likely to find enough support among lawmakers for another round of redrawing maps.
"It's not like Texas," Black said. "He doesn't have a Republican Legislature he can work with, so it's hard to think he can get any positive action through the Legislature."
The GOP-controlled Texas legislature recently passed a redistricting plan that is expected to transform that state's congressional delegation from a small Democratic majority to a substantial Republican one. The change came only after Democratic members of the House and Senate, respectively, fled the state at different times in efforts to block the new maps that favor the GOP.
However, Perdue "doesn't lose" by pushing redistricting, Black said. "He's sending a message to Republicans across the state, the ones who do care, that we're not abandoning the issue," he said.
Perdue also creates the opportunity for redistricting to become an election-year issue for state lawmakers, all 236 of whom stand for re-election next year, Black said. Republican candidates can point to the Legislature's stand on redistricting to say: "The only way we're going to get relief is to put Republicans in charge of both houses of the Georgia Legislature," he said.
"I think the Democrats really underestimate this," Black said.
Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey said the governor will ask the Legislature to redraw maps for state House, Senate and congressional races. "All three were gerrymandered, and he wants all three changed," Dickey said.
Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said: "Rural Georgia is still upset about the [redistricting] maps. They know that their influence is reduced."
Johnson said he has a 2 1/2-hour car ride to meet with officials in Pierce County at the far end of his Senate district.
"They know firsthand how little we know each other," he said. "They don't buy the Democrats' argument that they have two [state] senators representing them. They want one that they can touch and talk to and influence at the ballot box."
Max Hancock, chairman of the Colquitt County Commission, is among those who would like to see some different maps.
One of the House districts "literally looks like they threw some paint on the wall in Lee County and it just dripped down into Dougherty County, Worth County, Colquitt County and Thomas County," Hancock said.
With a population of 42,000, Colquitt County qualified to be a single House district, but it was carved into four in 2001, Hancock said.
None of the four House members representing Colquitt County lives within its borders, he said.
"We're very fortunate. The people we got, we work
with well," Hancock said. "We don't need over two representatives, but, my
gosh, four is a little much."
ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court sided with Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker on Thursday in a dispute with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue over which official had the power to call the state's legal shots in a redistricting case.
In a 5-2 decision, the court said Baker acted within his rights when he rejected the governor's call for him to drop a U.S. Supreme Court appeal aimed at reinstating a 2001 redistricting plan passed by Democrats when they were in power.
Perdue, who upset the incumbent Democratic governor last November, wanted the appeal abandoned and a new map drawn by the Legislature.
He sued when Baker refused to comply, and the question became a constitutional power fight. A lower court rebuffed the governor, and Perdue then went to the state's highest appeals court.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the redistricting case in April and ruled in June.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, the court said Baker was fulfilling a duty imposed on him by the Legislature in seeking to reinstate the 2001 plan, and "we conclude that the governor does not have a clear legal right to compel the attorney general to dismiss the appeal or case from the courts."
Baker called the decision "a clear victory for the people of Georgia and a win for good government."
Perdue's aides were studying the ruling and had not issued a response by mid-afternoon.
Although the ruling favored Baker, it did not settle the question of which official has the greater power over the state's legal affairs. Rather, it said the Georgia Constitution and state statutes provide for a shared responsibility.
"...We reject the broader claim by each officer that he has the ultimate authority to decide what is in the best interest of the people of the state in every lawsuit involving the state of Georgia," the court wrote.
"By giving both the governor and attorney general the responsibility for enforcing state law, the drafters of our constitutions and the General Assembly have made it less likely that the state will fail to forcefully prosecute or defend its interests in a court or law or other legal proceeding."
The court termed it an "overlapping responsibility" which "provides a system of checks and balances within the executive branch so that no single official has unrestrained power to decide what laws to enforce and when to enforce them."
In a dissent, Justice George Carley, joined by Harris Hines, suggested the ruling was overly broad and simply muddied the waters.
"Far from the narrow holding portrayed by the majority, however, I submit that today's opinion sows the seeds of a constitutional and political crisis which could and should be avoided simply by this court following its own mandate to interpret the Georgia Constitution as it is written," he wrote
If Gov. Sonny Perdue calls a special session and puts redistricting on the agenda, it's likely to go nowhere in the legislature, House Speaker Terry Coleman said Thursday.
The only reason the legislature should revisit the issue of redrawing political districts is if the courts overturn the existing maps, Coleman said at a meeting of the Macon Exchange Club.
"I don't know why we would take it up at this point," Coleman said. "I don't think we need to get into it."
Coleman, a Democrat from Eastman, decides which bills will be discussed and voted on by the full House.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court said Georgia's 2001 state Senate map did not illegally dilute minority voting strength. That decision overturned a previous ruling by a three-judge panel that disqualified the map from being used. But the Supreme Court's June ruling required the panel to take another look at the map, and most observers expect the lower judges to agree with the Supreme Court.
If that happens, the 2001 map would automatically replace the Senate's existing districts, and perhaps give Democrats an edge in their quest to regain majority status in the Senate.
Senate Republicans during this year's legislative session drew a third map that would bolster their chances at maintaining a majority. Perdue has said that if he calls a special session, he'd likely demand the legislature vote on the GOP's Senate map. Georgia's governor has sole authority to call a special legislative session and set its agenda.
The key factor in determining whether Perdue calls a special session is the economy.
Perdue has given mixed signals on whether he'll call a special session. Last month Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan said the governor would continue to monitor tax collections before making a final decision.
Also at Thursday's Macon Exchange Club meeting, Coleman said that if the costs needed to support the HOPE college scholarship program outgrow the state's ability to fund it, it may be necessary to freeze tuition increases or cancel fees at Georgia colleges.
About a dozen state-flag protestors stood outside the Macon Centreplex during Coleman's speech to the Exchange Club. Holding signs that said "Boot Coleman" and "Coleman is Crook," the demonstrators are upset that Coleman voted to change the state flag and not allow a vote on the post-1956 flag with the Confederate battle cross.
To contact Atlanta bureau chief Andy Peters, call (404) 659-8735 or e-mail [email protected] .
ATLANTA - The power struggle between Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker is close to a final showdown.
The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments today over whether the governor has the power to control the top attorney, who is independently elected.
The debate has grown so important to both men that Perdue and Baker plan to attend the hearing, a highly unusual development according to court officials.
Last month, a lower court judge ruled that Perdue could not force the attorney general to drop a case.
The governor had ordered Baker to dismiss a redistricting appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. When Baker refused, Perdue sued him over who has the power to call the state's legal shots.
The governor wanted to abandon the state's appeal of a Senate redistricting plan adopted two years ago when Democrats were in control of the Legislature. If Georgia wins the appeal, the state would revert to a 2001 redistricting map that was drawn to help Democrats.
Baker started the appeal under Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, but Perdue asked him to drop it after he took office in January. Baker refused, saying the nation's high court had already agreed to hear the case and that Georgia needs better guidance on how to draw district lines.
Perdue said the governor has the final say on the state's legal matters. He wants to throw out the state Senate maps altogether and draw new ones to help fellow Republicans.
Just days before the redistricting case was to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, a Fulton County judge ruled Perdue could not stop the appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard Georgia's case April 29, but the governor still wants to settle the question of legal authority.
''I hope that the (Georgia) Supreme Court will take a broader constitutional view and rule on the division of power,'' Perdue said Monday.
Baker has said the attorney general must retain independence. If a governor could order the attorney to drop a case, he could also order the attorney general to drop an investigation into corruption, Baker will argue.
Independence ''has been a critical component over the years in Georgia as a check against public corruption and abuse of power,'' Baker said in a statement Monday.
The Georgia court must rule by December, although an earlier decision is expected.
WASHINGTON -- Georgia lawmakers realigned voting districts to empower black voters, not the Democratic Party, a lawyer representing the state argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court.
David Walbert, a special assistant Georgia attorney general, told the justices that the original redistricting plan benefited blacks because, although their huge majorities in a few districts were reduced, black candidates were still expected to win those seats. At the same time, black voters would get the opportunity to influence other races, too.
The appeal being argued, Georgia v. Ashcroft, is the only significant case before the Supreme Court arising from the realignment of voting districts that followed the 2000 census.
The case has national implications as a test of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is up for renewal by Congress in 2007.
The Georgia case has also prompted a partisan legal battle between state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, who had demanded that Baker abandon the appeal. If Baker prevails in the appeal, state Democrats could gain numbers in the state Legislature.
The case, which directly involves three state Senate districts, tests how far a state can reduce the percentage of minority voters in a district before it violates their constitutional rights. A lower court ruled that the redrawn districts illegally reduced the chances of African-American voters to elect black candidates.
In an hour-long argument, Walbert told the justices that no majority-black district had dropped below 50 percent under the plan.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg challenged him. "Are you saying when you get up over a certain number of blacks, that is enough?" she asked Walbert.
"Where you have a real opportunity of winning the seat -- that is enough," he replied.
Walbert argued the key issue is where to set the minimum level of minority voters. "Everyone agrees it's OK to drop" the percentage in any individual district, he said. "The only question is where to draw the line."
Through their questions, the justices wondered whether it would be acceptable to set the minimal level at 55 percent, 50 percent or 45 percent.
"I think this case boils down to retrogression," said Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, using a term jurists apply when a reduction in the level of minority voting is considered too large.
The justices' questions suggested a divide in the court's view of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The court's decision could influence the fate of the act in Congress.
"Maybe if we make it bad enough, they'll think about repealing it," Justice Antonin Scalia said.
Walbert argued the best way to protect African-American voters is to disperse them among many legislative and congressional districts, rather than packing them into fewer districts.
Malcolm Stewart, a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department, countered that the only way to protect minority voting strength is to give African-Americans a "guarantee" of political clout rather than only a "fair" chance.
Voting still follows racial lines in Georgia, and the voices of minority voters could be silenced without the law's protections, Stewart argued. "When we're talking about minority districts, we're talking about districts that are among the strongest," he said.
Justice John Paul Stevens wondered if it wasn't a step backward for a state to dilute minority voting percentages even in districts where minority candidates still would be favored.
"If you go from a safe seat that is clearly backsliding," Stevens said, "why is going from a safe seat to a fairly probable seat not backsliding, retrogression, abridging the right to vote?"
But Scalia, one of the court's most conservative members, wondered if states were stretching the Voting Rights Act too far.
"I'm concerned about how far we're getting from the test of the statute," he said. "It says nothing about retrogression. It says you cannot deny or abridge the right to vote because of race."
If minorities account for 30 percent of the voters, then they "won't get some redneck, discriminatory representative," Scalia said. "It appears it's in the interest of Republican voters to pack black voters [into fewer districts]. Maybe black legislators supported this plan because they thought it was a good idea to disperse black voters."
A ruling is expected by the end of the court term, just before July 4.
The state Senate district map, drawn by a Democratic-controlled Georgia Legislature in 2001, was rejected last year by a three-judge panel in Washington on the ground that the percentages of black voters in districts around Albany, Savannah and Macon were reduced too much. Two of the three districts are represented by African-American senators.
In response, the General Assembly redrew the districts, strengthening their black voting populations while weakening those in surrounding districts. The districts were approved, and the Nov. 5 elections were held based on that new map.
In that election, Republicans gained Senate seats. When four Democrats switched parties, the GOP claimed a 30-26 majority that could be threatened if the court throws out the map.
In the same election, Republican Sonny Perdue upset incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes in the race for governor. After taking office in January, Perdue ordered Attorney General Baker to drop the state's appeal of the redistricting decision.
After Baker refused, Perdue sued in Fulton County Superior Court. A judge has ruled that Baker, not Perdue, is the top legal official for the state, and the governor has appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON ñ Since its enactment in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has given birth to countless Supreme Court cases. Particularly nettlesome has been the question of how to draw lines for legislative districts in a way that appropriately factors in race. Once again, the issue sits before the high court. But this time, in a case being argued Tuesday over state Senate districts in Georgia, there is a twist: The state's Democrats - the party of choice for the vast majority of African-Americans - want to reduce the concentrations of black voters in some predominantly black districts, in the hope that those voters will help elect Democrats in other, whiter districts. And it is Republicans who are styling themselves as champions of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the plan could jeopardize black-held seats.
At root is partisan politics, in a state that was once solidly Democratic but now features aggressive two-party competition. Last November, Georgia elected its first Republican governor in 130 years.
But the case goes beyond Georgia. It has ramifications for the nine states mostly in the South, and parts of seven others required by the Voting Rights Act to gain federal approval for redrawn districts.
Broadly put, the case shows how after nearly 40 years, the Voting Rights Act has turned a corner. Conceived to ensure minority access to the polls and to boost minority representation in government, the act has ushered in remarkable progress. But it has also served to concentrate minority voters - who tend to vote Democratic - in electoral districts, contributing to the resurgence of the Republican Party in the South.
Pamela Karlan, an election-law specialist at Stanford University in California, boils the question down this way: "How will the Democratic Party, when it is controlling redistricting, be permitted to negotiate the kind of tricky ground between complying with the Voting Rights Act and also protecting its own political strength?"
In their plan, the Democratic-controlled Georgia legislature proposed shifting the lines of 12 majority-black state Senate districts so they would have lower percentages of black voters. The US Justice Department rejected the plan for three of the districts, arguing it could diminish minority voting strength in those districts and reduce "the minority's opportunity to elect representatives of its choice."
The Justice Department cites evidence of "racially polarized voting" - a strong tendency of whites to vote for whites and blacks to vote for blacks - in those three districts.
The state of Georgia - represented by Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who is, ironically, African-American - argues that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does not prevent a state from adopting a plan that reduces "packed" concentrations of black voters "so long as it preserves equal or fair opportunities for minorities to elect candidates of choice."
In its argument, the state put forth a statistical analysis that showed that the point of "equal opportunity" is a 44.3 percent black voting-age population. The Department of Justice rejected the statistical method used in that report.
The state's Democratic-backed plan would reduce black voting-age populations in the three disputed districts from large majorities of over 55 percent to just a hair over 50 percent. The state argues that the lower-court ruling, which it is appealing, would dictate a "ratcheting up" process, whereby states would "ultimately be required to have as many supermajority, safe [black] districts as possible."
The Justice Department argues that the fact it approved nine other new state Senate districts with reduced black voting-age populations shows that's not the case.
A group called the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda - representing major civil liberties and African-American organizations - oppose the Georgia redistricting plan. In a friend-of-the-court brief, they argue: "The State of Georgia's proposed 'equal opportunity,' or 50-50 chance of winning, standard for Section 5 preclearance would, if adopted, have a devastating impact on minority office holding and voting rights... (T)he number of blacks elected to the legislature would likely be cut in half."
Four so-called "intervenors," private citizens from the districts in question - two Democratic, two Republican, all of them black - agree that the plan would diminish black voting clout in Georgia.
Testimony from politicians
Black incumbent politicians in Georgia testified in favor of the plan, saying that Georgia had changed. But opponents say that evidence of racially polarized voting in those three districts requires that they maintain higher percentages of black voters. They cite testimony from the state's demographer, who said that most of the black state senators went along with the plan because if the Democrats lost control of the state House and Senate, any committee chairmanships held by blacks would be lost.
Laughlin McDonald, an ACLU voting-rights lawyer in Atlanta and author of the Georgia Coalition brief, acknowledges that in some areas, polarization is not as extreme as it used to be. "But Georgia is still as bad as any state in the South for opposition to the Voting Rights Act, and they're all bad," adds Mr. McDonald, author of a new book, "A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia."
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A three-year political feud in Georgia, with roots in decades of racial discrimination, has gone with fits and starts all the way to the Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee the justices will settle the bitter fight.
At issue is Georgia's controversial effort to redraw its legislative and congressional boundaries based on the 2000 census, and the power of government and legislative officials to craft minority-dominated voting districts. The dispute involves Georgia's legislature, two of its governors and the state attorney general.
The justices will hear arguments Tuesday about the lengths to which states can go to adjust the percentage of minority voters to ensure those districts remain "safely" in minority hands. Also, the court will be asked to decide whether private groups, such as political parties, can formally intervene in such cases.
The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires Georgia and 15 other Southern states with histories of racial discrimination to seek federal oversight and approval over its reworked congressional boundaries.
Georgia had adopted a standard of 44.3 percent for minority voters in traditional African-American districts, labeled a "point of opportunity" to give them an equal chance for success in achieving political power.
The state's initial redistricting plan was adopted in a special session of the legislature in early 2001, when Democrats were in control. The plan was strongly backed by then-governor Roy Barnes, also a Democrat.
In a "pre-clearance" decision last year, a federal court approved the state's congressional and state House maps. But the proposal for the state's Senate districts was rejected, and lawmakers were then forced to draw up a new map that was used in last year's election. The judges ruled Georgia failed to show its Senate map would "not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color."
But the court stipulated Georgia would revert to its original plan if it was upheld on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Justice Department has opposed Georgia in the case.
In the meantime, the 2002 elections gave Republicans control of the state Senate and the governor's mansion for the first time in decades. Partisan politics soon stepped in.
The new governor, Sonny Perdue, early this year ordered state Attorney General Thurbert Baker to drop the Supreme Court appeal. Baker, a Democrat and African-American, refused.
A very public political feud ensued. Perdue sued Baker, claiming the governor has ultimate legal jurisdiction. But a state court earlier this month ruled against Perdue. The state's supreme court will hear Perdue's appeal a week after the U.S. Supreme Court hears the redistricting case.
Sources: Justices displeased
Sources say the justices in Washington were extremely displeased with the political wrangling and legal uncertainty swirling around Atlanta in the weeks and months leading up to Tuesday's arguments. The justices reportedly considered delaying a hearing in the case, but ultimately agreed to hear the case as scheduled.
n its appeal to the Supreme Court, Georgia claims it complied fully with federal law in creating a minority-dominated districts. "The Constitution and the Voting Rights Act do not guarantee victory to minority candidates, but only equal opportunity."
The Justice Department, supported by a number of civil rights groups, says Georgia's initial redistricting plan did not go far enough to create districts giving minorities a better chance for success.
If Georgia wins, the state would revert to the 2001 redistricting plan that was drawn to help the Democrats. If the state loses, the Republican-controlled Senate could be given a chance to adopt a map beneficial to the GOP.
The U.S. Congress is expected to decide in 2007 whether to renew the Voting Rights Act. The future of redistricting laws could be affected by the Supreme Court's decision in this case.
The justices are expected to issue an opinion by late June.
The case is Georgia v. Ashcroft (02-0182).
More will be at stake than just the political tilt of the state when Georgia goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Lawyers will argue a redistricting case that has caused the Republican governor to sue the Democratic attorney general.
But on a national scale, the outcome of the case could send a message that might help determine whether Congress renews the 1965 Voting Rights Act four years from now.
"That date is looming out there, and it does raise an interesting question to the Supreme Court whether to send a signal to Congress," said Tim Storey, a redistricting analyst with the National Council of State Legislatures.
"It's certainly within the realm of possibility for the Supreme Court to . . . gut the Voting Rights Act, [although] it's hard to imagine they would go that far," Storey said. "But the Supreme Court has vast power. The interpretation [of the Voting Rights Act] has expanded over time. Redistricting had a much different set of rules in the '90s."
The case, Georgia v. Ashcroft, is the only significant redistricting case that the justices have taken from the 2000 census. Each decade since the Voting Rights Act was adopted, the justices in Washington have been called on to explain in greater detail the law that requires Georgia and 15 other states with histories of discrimination to get federal approval before they can change any election laws.
While the voting strength of minorities -- in Georgia, African-Americans -- is the primary concern, the real issue is political power. Spreading black voters through a number of districts can help Democrats. Lumping them into a few districts, surrounded by areas dominated by white voters, helps Republicans.
"Politics and redistricting are inseparable," Storey said. "You cannot ignore the political undercurrents of redistricting, and you should always consider the political background of the players, whether it's litigants or parties coming to the table. Everybody has political interests at stake."
The justices will address two questions: How far can the state reduce the percentages of minority voters in any district? And may such outside interests as political parties have a say in states' efforts to get federal approval of changes to political lines?
The Georgia case is based on a state Senate map that Democrats drew during a special session in 2001.
To get approval of changes to voting laws, states either ask the Department of Justice for approval or go to the U.S. District Court in Washington.
For the 2001 redistricting, Georgia, for the first time, went straight to court for "pre-clearance" of its legislative and congressional maps -- with the Justice Department on the other side.
The three-judge panel approved the state's congressional and House maps. But it rejected the Senate plan because the General Assembly had reduced too much the minority voting strength in three districts -- Savannah, Macon and Albany.
Last year, with elections looming, the General Assembly drew another Senate map. It won approval -- and also won the state Senate for the Republicans, once four Democrats switched parties after the Nov. 5 election.
But if the state of Georgia and Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker were to win this appeal, the initial map that favored the Democrats would take effect.
"I just don't think there is any evidence the Republican Justice Department will look out for the interests of African-Americans," said Sen. Robert Brown, a black legislator whose district was one of the three at issue.
Even so, a coalition of civil rights leaders has filed a brief in the case that sides with the Justice Department.
"The state is making arguments that are very dangerous," said Laughlin McDonald, who is with the American Civil Liberty Union's national Voting Rights Project.
"If the [U.S. Supreme] Court buys them, it could change in a dramatic way the standards" used for crafting minority legislative and congressional districts," said McDonald, who wrote the brief for the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda.
Georgia argues that it complied with federal law, even if the percentage of minority voters in districts previously identified as as African-American districts dropped below 45 percent. "The [U.S.] Constitution and the Voting Rights Act do not guarantee victory to minority candidates, but only equal opportunity," the state wrote in its brief.
That number, the state argued, would give minorities a 50-50 chance of winning The three Senate districts were singled out, according to Justice, because of evidence that voting there was more polarized than in other minority districts so the African-American percentages needed to be higher.
But Brown noted that he was first elected in 1991 in a majority-white district in a five-way race that included two white men.
One of 10 blacks in the 56-member state Senate, Brown cites several legislative or congressional districts that were majority white but elected African-Americans, including those for former state Sen. Charles Walker in Augusta and U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop and David Scott.
"I felt it was a political decision made by the Bush Justice Department," Brown said about objections to the way his district originally was drawn in 2001.
"They're not taking into consideration African-Americans can run smart campaigns and win elections and appeal to voters outside African-American communities," Brown said. "I'm not naive enough to think racism is dead. But I don't think you need an African-American super majority to get elected."
Politics the real issue
Packing minorities into one district only dilutes the voices of others in neighboring districts, Brown said. "It all comes down to politics." Georgia has pointed out in its brief that all but one African-American senators voted in favor of the plan.
The civil rights coalition, however, wrote that the benchmark Georgia was proposing would "have a devastating impact on minority office holding and voting rights."
Its argument: "A 50-50 chance of winning is also a 50-50 chance of losing."
The state's "point of equal opportunity" for blacks is 44.3 percent, which McDonald argued would have a "chilling effect" on black voters and a "warming effect" on whites. "I would hope at some point, race would not be a factor," he said. "But I don't think we've reached it yet."
Soon after Sonny Perdue took office as the state's first Republican governor in 135 years, he ordered Baker to drop the U.S. Supreme Court appeal. Perdue argued that further litigation would be too costly to the state and that voters wanted redistricting decisions made by the state and not by the courts.
Baker refused, because, he said, the issues would be important to other states and the ruling could guide future redistricting.
Perdue claimed that constitutionally he is the state's top legal officer and sued Baker. A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled for Baker. The governor's appeal to the state Supreme Court will be heard a week after the U.S. Supreme Court arguments Tuesday.
"Both parties have wrapped themselves in the rhetoric of the Voting Rights Act in order to advance partisan goals," McDonald said.
"Republicans say the Voting Rights Act requires states to create districts where minorities have a better chance, when in fact what they want to do is drain off the Democratic black voters and make opportunities for Republicans in remaining districts," he said.
"The Democrats, on the other hand, want to take down the black percentages as much as they can so they can disperse black voters to maximize chances for white Democrats."
Democratic leaders on Monday joined the constitutional battle between Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and Attorney General Thurbert Baker that goes to court today.
Both men claim to be the state's legal arbiter in a Georgia redistricting appeal to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 29.
Perdue sued in Fulton County Superior Court after Democrat Baker refused the governor's request that the elected attorney general drop the appeal.
"This case is about power," said a brief that 15 state Senate and House members filed Monday. "At issue is whether Gov. Perdue has the power to order [Democratic] Attorney General Baker to cease in his defense in the federal courts of duly enacted laws of Georgia."
Superior Court Judge Constance Russell will hear the case and is expected to issue a ruling today.
If the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Georgia in the redistricting appeal, a state Senate map rejected last year by a lower federal court would take effect.
It could improve Democratic chances to retake control of the Senate, where Republicans have a 30-26 majority, thanks to four members who switched parties after the Nov. 5 elections.
Perdue said he wants the appeal dropped because of the cost to taxpayers and because voters want the state's political boundaries decided in Georgia and not by the federal courts.
One of his campaign promises was to draw new legislative and congressional lines, but Senate bills to do so are not expected to pass this session.
In the suit against Baker, Perdue's lawyers argue that the state Constitution and Georgia law give the governor authority to force the state's lawyers to bring cases and to dismiss them.
Baker says the opposite, and his lawyers point out in their filings that an independent attorney general was a concern for the authors of the original Constitution.
In Monday's filing, Democratic legislators and the National Association of Attorneys General sided with Baker.
"Georgia legislators' interest, both as citizens and as legislators, is in preserving Georgia's constitutional balance of power," their brief said.
"The Georgia Constitution has been delicately calibrated to preserve the proper balance of power and checks and balances amongst elected officials. In this case, Gov. Perdue invites the judicial branch to expand the scope of his power. If the court accepts that invitation, Georgia's finely tuned constitutional architecture of checks and balances will be the loser."
Republicans are starting to play hardball.
The message to House Democrats is pass the new GOP-drawn map of state Senate election districts or their local bills will stay in committee and never get a floor vote.
"It's important to the [Republican] Senate to have the redistricting map approved," said Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Loganville), chairman of the State and Local Governmental Operations Committee. "This one [redistricting] bill is real important."
Local bills range from moving boundary lines for school board members to renaming the water and sewer authority in Ware County, as House Bill 288 does.
"I think this is the biggest misplay of politics, to go after local people and the local bills they need so desperately," Senate Minority Leader Michael Meyer von Bremen (D-Albany) said. "You don't hold local bills hostage for one bill. They don't have a dog in the [redistricting] fight. I can't believe it's being done."
During his fall campaign, Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue promised to redraw the lines for Georgia's congressional and legislative districts. After the election, the defection of four Democratic senators gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time, and the party wants to shore up its hold on the chamber.
Some Republicans are still smarting from the treatment they received when Democrats were in control. Unterman noted that the district she represented when she was in the House was reconfigured so she could not win it in last year's election.
"For years, we've been stymied, stomped into the ground," she said.
However, Senate Majority Leader Tom Price (R-Roswell) said he knew nothing of the strategy. "All bills are getting the appropriate scrutiny," Price said. "I'm aware of no policy that's in place that says that local bills will not move forward."
But freshman Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) said about Unterman: "She said when the Senate maps move, then I could expect mine [to move] too."
"It's my understanding that local legislation doesn't get treated that way," Buckner said.
House Majority Leader Jimmy Skipper (D-Americus) said he has received calls from local officials asking about delays with some of their bills.
"Almost all of them are legislation that's been requested by the cities, counties and school boards," Skipper said. "It would be a shame if it's lost in this kind of activity."
In separate redistricting fight on Thursday, attorneys for Perdue and for Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker filed briefs in Fulton County Superior Court.
The governor's lawyers reiterated his position that he is the client and that Baker must do what he asks: Drop a U.S. Supreme Court appeal on an earlier version of state Senate maps.
Georgia Republicans sued in federal court Thursday to challenge the state's current legislative and congressional districts. The lawsuit complains that population differences across districts give some citizens a stronger voice in government than others and violates the one-person-one-vote doctrine of the U.S. Constitution.
"The voting strength of [some] citizens .¬ .¬ . is severely diluted, as citizens in other purported districts have disproportionately greater voting strength," according to the lawsuit.
The complaint was brought by 29 "Georgia voters," including a GOP pollster, the wife of a Senate Republican and five Republican legislators.
The defendants are Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue; Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson of Savannah, the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate; Speaker Terry Coleman (D-Eastman), and Democratic Secretary of State Cathy Cox.
The districts, drawn by Democrats to give their party an advantage at the polls, were approved by the Bush administration Department of Justice. House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg) said the goal of the complaint is to put identical numbers of potential voters in each district, to make each vote equal.
The legislative maps in effect now allow for deviation of as much as plus or minus 5 percent, but the congressional districts have virtually no deviation.
The lawsuit filed Thursday is the latest in political wrangling over the state's voting maps.
Already on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is an earlier state Senate map, also drawn by Democrats.
Oral arguments before the high court are scheduled for April 29.
But also in that case, Perdue recently sued Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker in Fulton County Superior court in an effort to force the appeal to be dropped.
Perdue and Baker are fighting a state constitutional battle over whose interests the attorney general represents -- that of the governor or those of the people of Georgia.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have proposed new districts for state senators and for Congress, although the House, still controlled by Democrats, has said it will not consider them.
In the Supreme Court appeal of an earlier state Senate map, the state's lawyers have asked how far minority populations can be reduced without violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act
They also asked whether such outside entities as political parties can intervene in redistricting cases.
A redrawn map of the stateís 56 Senate districts, approved March 4 by a Senate redistricting committee, is now headed for the Senate floor despite Democratic opposition in the state legislature.
Republican proponents claim the new map offers fairer representation and divides fewer counties than the current Senate map. Democrat critics claim the new map is solely a measure for Republicans to retain recently-won control of the Senate.
Reaction from Catoosa Countyís local delegation in the legislature is overwhelmingly positive for the redrawn map.
îThe redistricting that the Democrats did in special session in 2001 is a political crime,î said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. ìThe Republicans in the state Senate have passed a measure that would require strong and legitimate guidelines in whichever party was in charge, to redraw political lines. That would be for whoever is in charge to keep districts as compact as possible and respect county lines and communities of interest much as possible.î
The state is required by law to redraw Congressional, House and Senate district maps every 10 years following each census to ensure an equal number of voters per district.
Republicans, with a Senate majority and governor in place because of the Nov. 5 election, complained about the practice of gerrymandering that occurred in August 2001 during the Democrat-led legislatureís special redistricting session.
Gerrymandering is a political term used to describe the partisan process of stretching voter districts to place one party at a political advantage over another.
By contrast to the current Democrat-authored map, which splits 87 of the stateís 159 counties, the new map splits 43, with the majority of split counties grouped in the metro-Atlanta area.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said during his campaign that, if elected, he would push to have the map redrawn.
îThis map is incredible compared to the current one,î state Rep. Ron Forster, R-Ringgold, said. ìOne has squiggly political data based on Democrat bias and the other has no political data whatsoever ó itís based solely on population, ass it should be.
îObviously, any third-grader can tell which one stayed within the lines and which one didnít,î he said. ìRedistricting should be about representing the people,î state Rep. Jack White, R-Blue Ridge, said, ìnot trying to artificially create or sustain a majority in a legislative body.î
Restoring counties to create uniform districts
Sen. Mullis said each district is currently allowed a deviation of five percent lesser or greater from its ideal population size.
Senate District 53, which encompasses all of Catoosa and Dade counties and about half of Walker and Whitfield counties, currently has a population deviation of 7,272.
The new map, intended to eliminate oddly-shaped districts and split fewer counties than the current Senate map, would essentially make Walker County whole again as part of District 53 and offer a population deviation of 522. A smaller portion of Whitfield County would still be part of the 53rd District. The 54th District would consist of all of Gordon, Murray and the majority of Whitfield counties.
îThe new requirement would put it at one or two percent (deviation), which makes it a more precise map,î Mul-lis said. ìIn my opinion, it would benefit whoever is in the minority party (too).î
Mullis said the difference between the Democrat-led redistricting process in 2001 and the GOPís new redistricting plan is that Republicans want bi-partisan input.
îWeíre allowing everybody to meet with the re-apportionment chairman, Dan Lee (R-LaGrange) to give input on what they feel best represents their district,î he said. ìThis will happen in the Senate with bi-partisan input, but we will struggle to pass it in the House.
îIíve talked to Sen. Lee and what I see best for Northwest Georgia is to keep Catoosa-Dade-Walker counties whole,î Sen. Mullis said. ìBecause of the population requirements, by law, I need a few more thousand people so we will have to split one county to get that and Whitfield County would be where I would need the additional people to make it legal.
I would suggest that if the Democrats ó including state Rep. (Mike) Snow (D-Chickamauga) ó are sincere in their opinions that the split precincts created a lot of havoc and confusion in voters, they should pass the Senate map to bring communities of interest together,î Mullis said. ìMoreover, they should create their own maps to outlaw multi-member districts and put the House map back together. I challenge them to do that.î
Rep. Forster said new House and Congressional district maps are being drawn for possible submission this legislative term.
Forster said that if Democrats who hold a majority in the House oppose the new maps, they will likely face voter backlash as former Gov. Roy Barnes did in his last election.
îIf Democrats are so thick-headed that they donít care about what the people of Georgia think and they try to vote against these maps and stop them, then itís going to come back to them in their election process,î Forster said, ìbecause theyíre just showing that they donít care what people think ó theyíre going to do what their party thinks ó and thatís not our philosophy.
îWeíll move these maps as far as we can,î Forster said. ìIíve had several Democrats here in my office, and I showed them these maps side-by-side and said ìLook, if you vote against something like this that has no political data in it, youíre obviously voting against the people of Georgia and a few of them have had second thoughts.î
Meanwhile, Gov. Perdue, who is at odds with state Attorney General Thurbert Baker over his refusal to drop the stateís appeal of three federal judgesí ruling on constitutional violations in the 2001 Senate redistricting plan ó sued Bakeer on Feb. 28.
Baker contends Perdue lacks the authority to intervene. The governor also sent a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the stateís appeal, set to be heard in April, be dismissed.
In the event that Supreme Court justices side with Georgia, the map of the stateís Senate districts will change to a design previously submitted by Democrats.
Gov. Sonny Perdue turned up the heat Friday in his battle with Attorney General Thurbert Baker over who calls the legal shots for the state, filing papers in courts in Atlanta and Washington to assert his executive authority.
Baker, a Democrat, has refused the Republican governor's order to halt a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of the state Senate redistricting case. The appeal was launched under Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, who lost to Perdue last November.
Baker contends the appeal may help clarify the complex body of redistricting law, smoothing the way for Georgia and other states in the future. He also contends that he is the state's top legal officer and the governor can't order him to drop the case.
Perdue says the Constitution gives the governor power to make the decision, and has termed the current dispute a constitutional crisis.
In the two related actions, Perdue's private lawyers:
--Informed the U.S. Supreme Court of the dispute and asked the court to send the matter to the Georgia Supreme Court for resolution, halting further proceedings until the dispute is resolved.
--Asked a superior court in Fulton County to order Baker to dismiss the appeal.
The redistricting appeal that Baker is pursuing was filed after a federal court in Washington rejected the Georgia Legislature's first plan for drawing new Senate district lines and ordered changes.
The Legislature complied, but filed suit asserting the first plan should have been approved.
Both plans were drawn when Democrats held the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature. The maps were designed to boost Democratic gains at the expense of Republicans.
The first map gives Democrats more of an advantage than the second map, and would control future elections if the Supreme Court rules in the state's favor.
Republicans want to throw out both maps and start over, drawing districts that would help Republican candidates and that would split up fewer counties
LAWRENCEVILLE ó Maps devised in the GOP-controlled Senate would put the Republicans back in control of the Gwinnett delegation. If the redistricting plan currently in the General Assembly is accepted, the countyís delegation would grow once more. But no one knows if the plan to change district boundary lines again has a chance. Republicans say itís a matter of principle, but Democrats say itís a political show. îIím not dealing with it. Weíve redistricted. Itís over,î said Sen. Mary Hodges Squires, a Democrat from Norcross. ìItís a game, and Iím not playing with them.î
A month ago, Squires was elected as chairman of the county Senate delegation much to the chagrin of the local Republicans.
But she had the votes ó the delegation is made up of three Republicaans and one Democrat from Gwinnett, plus three Democrats who live in DeKalb but represent part of this county.
îIf you draw a fair map, itís hard for a 65 percent majority Republican party to not have a majority in the delegation,î high-ranking Republican Sen. Don Balfour said. The new map redraws one DeKalb Democrat, Steve Henson of Tucker, out of Gwinnett, and adds parts of the districts of two Republican incumbents, Ralph Hudgens of Comer and Casey Cagle of Gainesville.
Republicans posture the reason for redrawing maps is because the Democrats drew maps solely for political reasons, disenfranchising voters and breaking ìcommunities of interest.î
According to Squires, a straight definition of ìcommunity of interestî has never been offered. But some of the complaints about the former map is that it carves up districts into odd shapes, splitting cities and counties between several districts.
The freshman senator from Norcross says the reapportionment process, guaranteed every 10 years when new Census figures are collected, was completed two years ago and Republicans only want to revisit the issue because they didnít get their way back then.
With a split under the Gold Dome, a GOP-controlled Senate and a Democrat majority in the House, agreeing on new maps may be a problem.
îIn the past, weíve never touched a House map and theyíve never touched one of ours,î Sen. Balfour said. ìProtocol would tell you theyíd pass it. Politics would tell you theyíre not going to do it. Weíll just have to wait and see.î
Balfour said there are talks in the Senate of reconsidering the U.S. Congressional districts, but any changes to the House district map would happen in the House.
Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].
Attorney General Thurbert Baker reiterated Friday that he would not withdraw the appeal of an earlier map of state Senate districts.
Later in the day, Republicans started to circulate among senators their version of a new map of the 56 state Senate districts that they want to push through the Legislature.
The Democrat-controlled Georgia House, however, has said it will not approve new redistricting maps.
Rancorous partisan argument over the drawing of their own districts dominated senators' debate both Thursday and Friday.
On the Supreme Court appeal, Democrat Baker is fighting Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has hired his own attorney. The map in question was drawn by a Democrat-controlled Legislature during a special session in 2001. A lower court overturned it later, and the General Assembly had to come up with a replacement, which was in place for the November elections.
Senate Resolution 85 is an attempt to get Baker to comply with the "will of the client," who is Perdue, said Sen. Dan Lee (R-LaGrange).
"It's an easy vote here," Lee said at the beginning of debate. The governor is Baker's client, not the residents of Georgia, he said.
Lee is one of four former Democrats who switched parties after the Nov. 5 election to give the GOP control of the Senate for the first time.
But Baker was unmoved by the vote.
"We are standing firm," the attorney general said Friday. "If what they contend is correct, then all the separations we've enjoyed in the past become meaningless.
"It means the governor can overrule the Legislature," he said. "It means the governor can overrule the [elected] insurance commissioner. It means the governor can run all elections [instead of the elected secretary of state]. The prospects of what they are arguing for are scary."
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to substitute their own resolution, which urged Baker to "maintain his constitutional decreed independence."
"Where does it stop if the governor makes the decision on this?" said Sen. David Adelman (D-Decatur) asked. "It's dangerous. And it's not about redistricting. It's about independence."
Baker has written a letter telling Perdue that the state constitution and state law give the attorney general sole authority to decide the legal path for the state.
As a result, the governor has retained a retired partner from the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding to try to stop Baker and the appeal.
Perdue spokeswoman Erin O'Brien said Friday that the governor's office continues to work on its strategy in the case.
During his gubernatorial campaign last year, Perdue promised to replace the state's legislative and congressional maps, which include a number of strangely shaped districts.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill laying out certain principles that map-drawers must follow, such as keeping districts compact and making decisions without the benefit of data on voting trends.
Then, late Friday, Senate Republicans floated the first version of their own map, which replaced twisting and meandering districts with ones that tracked county lines in many cases.
Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon), the Democratic whip, was harsh in evaluating the Republican map.
"Packing, packing, packing," Brown said. "They're packing black [residents together in the same districts], going back to max-black. Totally unacceptable."
Putting large numbers of African-American voters, usually Democrats, in a district usually results in "bleaching" of surrounding areas that are filled with white Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Price (R-Roswell) said election trends were not used to create the map. The latest map was drawn by an aide to the Republican caucus instead of by the Legislature's nonpartisan redistricting office, Price said.
The redistricting issue has been tense, and has resulted in hours of action on the Senate floor. "The debate," Price said, "has been somewhat strenuous and long.î
ATLANTA (AP) -- A Senate committee approved legislation Monday that sets standards for future redistricting efforts, and promised to produce new maps drawn to those standards in about three weeks.
Gov. Sonny Perdue's Senate floor leader, Republican Bill Stephens of Canton, said the bill would prohibit bizarre-shaped districts and would prevent counties and communities from being split for political reasons.
States must redraw election districts after every census to reflect population changes.The maps used in the last election were drawn two years ago when Democrats controlled both houses. Democrats acknowledged they designed the districts to boost their own party's candidates at the expense of Republicans.
In the House, still under Democratic control, legislative leaders have avoided saying they will block the Republican-led Senate plan.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Price of Roswell said he was hopeful for quick passage in both houses.
"The Senate will treat the plan openly and move it through quickly and hopefully so will the House," Price said. "I do know the citizens of Georgia spoke loudly and deliberately in the November elections and it's time for us to listen to them."
The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee before being voted on the full Senate floor.
ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue switched lawyers Friday in his dispute with the attorney general. His original pick bowed out because his law firm does a lot of business with the state.
Perdue's office said that Griffin Bell would be replaced by Frank C. Jones. Bell is a partner in King & Spalding, a massive Atlanta law firm that receives state money for its help on legal matters.
Jones is retired from that firm, so he can ''avoid any unnecessary distractions'' from suggestions of a conflict, said Perdue spokeswoman Erin O'Brien.
The reason Perdue hired a lawyer in the first place is because he wants to force Attorney General Thurbert Baker to drop a redistricting appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. Perdue, a Republican, directed the Democrat attorney to drop the appeal, but Baker has refused.
ATLANTA -- Gov. Sonny Perdue declared Thursday that the attorney general's refusal to obey his directive to drop a redistricting lawsuit puts Georgia on the road to a constitutional crisis.
"If the attorney general, based on partisan political pressure, wants to pursue a constitutional crisis, I am willing to go there," he told reporters just a day after announcing he has hired former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell for the showdown.
Russ Willard, a spokesman for Attorney General Thurbert Baker, said Baker wasn't backing down because "there are valid and pressing legal reasons for going forward."
This is not the first time a governor and an attorney general have done battle over who calls the legal shots for the state.
A University of Georgia government scholar, Mel Hill, said the question is murky.
"To my knowledge, there is no specific case on point about this," Hill said.
This fight, the first major dust up of the new Republican governor's administration, is over redistricting, an important topic to Republicans who two years ago watched a Democrat-dominated legislature draw new lines.
If the state wins an appeal the Supreme Court already has agreed to hear, the state would revert to a state Senate redistricting map even more heavily tilted toward Democrats than the one now in effect.
Republicans want to draw a new map that would cement their current majority in the Senate. Democrats, who control the House, don't want that to happen.
Perdue asked Baker in a very public forum last month -- his State of the State address -- to abandon the appeal. Baker declined Wednesday, announcing he planned to pursue it because it could lead to a new ruling from the nation's highest court clarifying complex redistricting issues.
In a news conference Thursday, Perdue insisted again that the governor "clearly has the statutory and the constitutional authority to speak for the people of Georgia." He added, "The law is as clear as it can be."
Willard, Baker's spokesman, countered, "The Constitution, the statute, the case law and the history of this state strongly support the independence of the attorney general's office, and we will proceed in the manner that we have stated."
Not everyone agreed with the governor that a constitutional crisis was at hand.
"It's not a crisis. It's a clear-cut matter and I think it will be resolved quickly," said Senate Republican Leader Tom Price of Roswell.
Scholars say the question is murky. Here is one of the central disagreements in the skirmish between Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican.
"The Attorney General shall act as the legal adviser of the executive department, shall represent the state in the Supreme Court in all capital felonies and in all civil and criminal cases in any court when required by the Governor, and shall perform such other duties as shall be required by law." (Georgia Constitution, Article 5, Section 3, Paragraph 4)
Perdue contends that, along with other statutes, makes it clear the governor is in charge.
But former Attorney General Michael Bowers, in a 1995 opinion, interpreted that clause to give the attorney general "complete and exclusive authority and jurisdiction in all matters of law relating to the executive branch of government."
ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction declared the Democratic attorney general's refusal to obey his directive to drop a redistricting lawsuit puts Georgia on the road to a constitutional crisis.
If Gov. Sonny Perdue wins the struggle, it could leave Thurbert Baker, the state's first black Attorney General, nearly powerless and would mean the governor calls the legal shots for Georgia.
In a state dominated by Democrats for more than a century, this type of public warfare is rare, but not unprecedented. Still, there is no clear indicator that shows who is in charge when the attorney general and governor disagree on a legal matter.
``If the attorney general, based on partisan political pressure, wants to pursue a constitutional crisis, I am willing to go there,'' Perdue, who took office last month, told reporters Thursday, a day after announcing he hired former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell for the showdown.
Russ Willard, a spokesman for Baker, said the Democrat wasn't backing down because ``there are valid and pressing legal reasons for going forward.''
This fight is over redistricting, an important topic to Republicans who two years ago watched a Democrat-dominated Legislature draw new lines designed to prevent Republicans from gaining more seats despite population growth in GOP-dominated areas.
If the state wins an appeal the Supreme Court already has agreed to hear, it would revert to a state Senate redistricting map even more heavily tilted toward Democrats than the one now in effect.
Republicans want to draw a new map that would cement their current majority in the Senate. Democrats, who control the House, don't want that to happen.
In his State of the State address last month, Perdue asked Baker to abandon the appeal. Baker declined Wednesday, announcing he planned to pursue it because it could lead to a new ruling from the nation's highest court clarifying complex redistricting issues.
Past brushes between governors and attorneys general have done little to clarify who's in charge.
In a 1989 skirmish between Gov. Joe Frank Harris and Attorney General Mike Bowers - both Democrats although Bowers later changed parties - the Georgia Supreme Court left the question unanswered.
Bowers sued the Board of Regents when it refused to follow his opinion that the names of candidates under consideration for college presidencies were subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act.
It was an unusual circumstance because, as the state's chief legal officer, the attorney general usually represents such boards in lawsuits rather than initiating suits against them.
Harris authorized the board to hire a private lawyer to defend itself.
The court ruled that the board should have complied with the Open Records Act but left unresolved another question raised during litigation - whether the attorney general needed the governor's approval to sue state agencies.
Georgia's governor and attorney general are headed toward a constitutional crisis in a dispute over who has authority over the state's redistricting litigation.
Gov. George E. "Sonny" Perdue III said he had retained former U.S. Attorney General Griffin B. Bell to represent him in a test over the powers of Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker. Bell could sue Baker to try to force him to drop the suit, but Perdue didn't say what action he expected the former U.S. attorney general to take in the matter.
Perdue, a Republican, asked Baker last month to drop the state's redistricting appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, but Baker on Wednesday refused.
"I am upset," Perdue said at a hastily called press conference late Wednesday.
"The governor has the power and the authority to direct litigation," Perdue said, citing state law and the state constitution to support his position.
In a telephone interview earlier in the day, Baker, a Democrat, said he was following precedents set by the past two attorneys general, Arthur K. Bolton and Michael J. Bowers, who were staunch defenders of the Law Department's independence.
"The attorney general speaks to legal matters for the state," said Baker.
This is not the first time Bell, a former federal appeals judge and current King & Spalding senior partner, has involved himself in a dispute over the powers of the attorney general.
In 1987, Bell represented Attorney General Bowers after Bowers sued the state Department of Personnel to enforce the state's open meetings law, according to an Associated Press report at the time.
Perdue retained Bell late Wednesday and said he did not know whether Bell would take Baker to court to test whom the state constitution endows with the authority to direct the state's litigation.
State Sen. Thomas E. Price, R-Roswell, said Baker's decision was "incorrect, partisan and the voters will see through it."
"The attorney general gives independent decisions as it relates to legal matters, and should," added Price, the Senate majority leader. "But when the state requests through its CEO that the case no longer be tried on behalf of the state then the attorney general's job is to respond to that request."
Baker said that his role is "entirely different" than that of any private attorney, who must follow the orders of his client.
"The attorney general of Georgia represents the people of this state," he said.
Baker's move was the latest in a two-year legal and political battle that has so far cost the state $1.2 million and has the potential to clarify 38 years of civil rights law.
It started in 2001, when Gov. Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat, pushed an aggressive redistricting plan that spread black voters across many districts in order to improve Democrats' election chances. Because Georgia historically discriminated against black voters, the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires that Georgia's redistricting plans receive the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Black voters represented by the state Republican Party argued that the districts illegally diluted black voting strength. The Justice Department objected as well, holding that three state Senate districts violated the Voting Rights Act.
Last year, a federal court ruled in a 2-1 vote against the state. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Perdue won the gubernatorial election. The week Perdue was inaugurated, the U.S. high court agreed to take the state's redistricting appeal.
The new governor has urged the General Assembly to redraw the political districts, but has found himself in the awkward position of leading a state government that is plaintiff to a high court appeal that advances the agenda of state Democrats. Perdue responded by asking Baker to drop the appeal.
"The challenges of redistricting should be addressed at home, by Georgians, in Georgia's legislature," Perdue said in his state of the state address. In a letter hand-delivered to the governor's office on Wednesday, Baker pointed out that the high court would not be drawing the state's legislative map but instead would "hopefully resolve core issues that have plagued this state" since 1965.
At issue is the law's definition of "retrogression," which refers to dilution of black voting strength within districts.
The high court's decision, Baker said, will provide guidance not only to the Legislature -- which could still change the map at any time -- but also to all local governments and school boards which must also get permission from the Justice Department during redistricting.
Price, the Republican leader in the Senate, decried spending more state funds on the case. "With the current budget crisis, this decision is irresponsible," he said.
Baker estimated that the rest of the case -- which involves submitting briefs and an argument at the U.S. high court -- would cost between $30,000 and $60,000.
Staff reporter Rachel Tobin Ramos contributed to this article.
State Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, has joined fellow legislators in mapping a proposal to govern the stateís reapportionment process.
Georgia law requires legislative lines to be redrawn every 10 years. Republican Party members have accused Democrats of drawing legislative maps during the 2002 session of the Georgia General Assembly in efforts to maintain and extend the 130-year political dominance they had enjoyed in the state.
Many officials blame poorly drawn maps for the recent state House District 1 election problems.
ìYou can see the problems it has caused, particularly in Walker County,î Smith said. ìThere is a great deal of confusion even up to the elections office on where the maps are, which district is which, who is in what precinct and that sort of thing.î
ìThese guidelines are what we have been arguing for,î Smith said. ìWhen the Democrats were in power they were suggesting that if we were in power, we would do it the same way. Now that we have the chamber we want to propose something that is reasonable and fair and is also open to scrutiny by both sides.î
ìThis set of rules demonstrates our commitment to place the interests of our constituents above partisan politics,î he said.
ìThe bill calls for districts to be contiguous and compact,î Smith said. ìIt prohibits ëbizarre shapedí districts and the division of communities of interest. It requires that districts ëshall divide as few counties and recognized political boundaries as practicable.íî
ìThe rules are unlike any other state and set a much higher standard for the drawing of legislative maps,î he said. ìThis was one of our highest priorities, and we wanted to send it to the floor for a vote very early in our session.î
ìWhat he is talking about is bringing reapportionment back, which is very political,î said state Rep. Mike Snow, D-Chickamauga. ìItís like 10 brothers and sisters fighting over their deceased daddyís land. Itís not a pretty sight. The reapportionment process can be mean, even with your friends.î
Snow said the legislature would require a special session to address the reapportionment issue. That special session would cost the taxpayers several million dollars.
ìThey know it would be a train wreck if we got reapportionment mixed in with all of this other stuff weíve got down here,î he said. ìWhat they would be doing is adding all sorts of gasoline to a very volatile situation.î
ìI think the governorís proposal was, instead of simply proposing new maps, he wants us to have guidelines that govern how those maps are to be drawn,î Smith said Wednesday.
Smith said the rules would regulate maps no matter which party controls the legislature.
ìThe bill also establishes that there be no multi-member districts, which will significantly change the House map,î he said.
The Senate is considering a district map bill, but it is waiting for a proposed map to be attached before going to committee, he said.
ìYou canít have a map that doesnít split any counties because the law requires that each Senate district represent about 150,000 people,î he said.
ìI think that they (Republicans) are posturing more than anything,î Snow said. ìIím not sure they want to revisit some of these maps. A lot of those (Republican) senators ran in those districts and got elected.î
ìThe courts allow you to draw political lines to suit you a little bit more than others,î he said. ìThe parties are going to try to suit themselves, whether itís Democrats or Republicans.î
ìDonít believe any politician that tells you something different from that,î Snow said.
ATLANTA - Georgia's Democratic attorney general bucked Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue on a redistricting fight Wednesday, refusing to drop an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The appeal, filed under former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, asks the high court to approve a state Senate redistricting map that is tilted even more toward Democrats than the one used in last year's election. A hearing is scheduled in April.
The case concerns apparent conflicts between the Voting Rights Act, which bans a reduction of black voting strength, and the one-person, one-vote principle that requires an equal distribution of the population among districts. Like other Southern states, Georgia must submit its district maps for federal approval to make sure black votes aren't diluted.
Perdue, whose victory over Barnes in November broke Democrats' 130-year hold on the governor's mansion, and other Republicans called on Attorney General Thurbert Baker to drop the matter last month.
Baker told Perdue on Wednesday he won't do that.
"I must do what I believe is in the best legal interests of the people of the state of Georgia," Baker wrote in a two-page explanation. Georgia's attorney general is elected, not appointed by the governor.
In response to Baker's letter, Perdue said he plans to hire former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell "to protect the interests of the governor's office." Perdue said he isn't sure what action Bell will take - whether he might sue Baker or file a motion with the court on the governor's behalf to drop the appeal.
Flanked by aides waving copies of Georgia law, Perdue said Baker has no right to ignore the governor's direction.
"I am upset. I am. I have made a valid request to the attorney general of this state. He has blatantly disregarded that," Perdue said.
Republicans want to start from scratch and redraw the districts. The current appeal is from a redistricting plan in 2001, which a three-judge federal court found unfairly reduced black voting strength in several districts. Democratic lawmakers drafted a new plan, but also appealed the ruling.
ATLANTA - It didn't take Gov. Sonny Perdue long last week to put his finger squarely on what's different about the "new day in Georgia," his fall campaign slogan.In the third sentence of his first State of the State address, he pointed out that no living Georgian had ever heard a Republican governor give the speech he had just begun.
In the fourth, he spoke of the "different" General Assembly, where the GOP controls one chamber and the Democrats the other after more than a century of total Democratic rule.
"Today, we are truly a two-party state, with shared representation in the Legislature and shared responsibility for governing," Mr. Perdue went on. "The mandate I heard on Nov. 5 was the Democrats and Republicans must now work together."
With the 2003 legislative session just 10 days old, no one knows whether the two parties will cooperate with each other and get their work done or get bogged down in partisan gridlock.
But the participants in Georgia's new era of divided government can look to other states.
The two-party system that is new in Georgia has been practiced elsewhere for years. In the wake of last November's elections, 11 other states - from Washington and Oregon to Kentucky and North Carolina - have divided legislatures. In 28 other states, at least one legislative chamber is controlled by the party in opposition to the governor.
"Divided control of government has been increasing pretty steadily for the past two decades," said Tim Storey, an elections analyst with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. "Increasingly, it's the norm."
SOME STATES HAVE more experience in divided government than others. New York holds the current record, Republicans having held sway in the Senate and Democrats in the Assembly, the lower chamber, since the 1970s.
Robert Ward, who wrote a book on New York state government last year, said the level of bickering between the parties went up during the early years of the split, but has tapered off in recent years.
Over the decades, the two chambers have evolved into what he calls "institutional agreement." In redistricting, for example, New York lawmakers generally keep their hands off each other's maps. Every 10 years, after the census, Senate Republicans draw new district maps that will be advantageous to GOP candidates. Democrats in the Assembly do the same for their candidates.
As a result, the two parties have built such huge majorities in their respective chambers that there's nothing to gain by tampering with their foes in the other house.
"Now, everyone agrees the Assembly will stay Democratic for the foreseeable future," Mr. Ward said. "Republicans in the Senate see no reason to cause partisan disagreement."
But all is not rosy in New York.
Lawmakers there haven't passed a budget on time in 17 years.
While the unusual April 1 start to the state's fiscal year doesn't help, divided government contributes to the perennial budget gridlock. But at least New York eventually gets a budget.
In Kentucky, the Legislature couldn't agree on a budget last year, and the prospects for a spending plan this year aren't good, said Donald Gross, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
Like other Southern states, Kentucky is a relative newcomer to divided government.
THE 1992 ELECTIONS left Democrats in control of every legislative chamber in the South except for the Florida Senate, which was tied. Since then, Republicans have gained majorities in 13.
Control of Kentucky's Legislature was split in the late 1990s when two Senate Democrats turned Republican, the same scenario that vaulted the GOP into power in the Georgia Senate during the week after last November's elections.
Mr. Gross said the squabbling between the parties has deteriorated to the point that the government has been functioning only because Democratic Gov. Paul Patton has taken it upon himself periodically to order budget cuts.
In Kentucky, governors can reduce spending unilaterally, but they can't raise taxes without the Legislature's approval. According to Mr. Gross, the Senate's Republican leader won't support any tax increase, while Mr. Patton maintains he can't cut spending enough to balance the budget.
"With Democrats controlling the House and Republicans the Senate, we're pretty much at a stalemate," Mr. Gross said.
Whether Georgia will follow New York's "go-along, get-along" model or descend into unproductive bickering is anyone's guess.
Rep. Alan Powell, D-Hartwell, one of House Speaker Terry Coleman's new committee chairmen, isn't encouraged by what he's seen so far.
He blames the unsuccessful bid by Republicans to prevent Mr. Coleman's election as speaker for putting the Legislature behind schedule. The General Assembly will meet only two days this week to allow House budget writers to catch up with their review of Mr. Perdue's spending requests. There's even been talk of holding a special session this spring to deal with the budget.
"If they had worked with us back in November instead of a lot of games, we could have had a working relationship," Mr. Powell said. "Because of the uncertainty, nothing could be done."
But others see a strong upside to divided government in Georgia.
"We're going to be a lot more partisan than we've ever been," said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez. "But now, all issues will be debated. - It may take a little longer, but in the long run, the state of Georgia benefits because everybody's at the table."
Control of the legislatures in the
following 12 states is split between Democrats and Republicans:
WashingtonSource: National Conference of State Legislatures
ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue reversed himself Monday, announcing in his State of the State address that he will find money to continue funding a tax break for homeowners.
In the first State of the State delivered to a prime time audience, Mr. Perdue also called for a statewide vote on the Georgia flag and urged lawmakers to rework political maps he said were steered by partisan politics.
Two weeks ago, the first Republican governor of Georgia in 130 years said a $620 million budget shortfall didn't leave enough money to continue a homestead tax exemption created by his predecessor, Democrat Roy Barnes.
The proposal drew sharp opposition from Democrats and even some in Mr. Perdue's own party. Thirty-eight Republicans in the House and 10 GOP senators signed a pledge not to raise taxes during last year's campaigns.
Mr. Perdue's budget plan also calls for increases in alcohol and tobacco taxes.
The promise not to go through with the rollback on property tax cuts drew a standing ovation from lawmakers of both parties.
"I was hoping to get something (in the speech) to get all of you to stand up," said Mr. Perdue as legislators cheered.
To generate the needed $285 million, Mr. Perdue is tapping a reserve account for schools and delaying state paychecks one day - from June 30 to July 1 - to push them into the next fiscal year.
He acknowledged that those aren't actual spending cuts, but he said Monday that they buy him time to find other places to cut the budget and free up the money.
Sen. Joey Brush, D-Appling, said he wanted to continue tinkering with the budget until there was no need for an increase in the alcohol and tobacco taxes.
"We're nearly halfway there, and I think we'll find the rest of it," Mr. Brush said.
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the state's ranking Democrat after the Nov. 5 elections, applauded canceling the homestead-exemption rollback but took Mr. Perdue to task for sticking with the alcohol and tobacco.
"Georgia Democrats oppose raising taxes to balance the budget," said Mr. Taylor. "Taking more money from your wallets, from your homes (and) from your children should be the last resort, not the first."
Mr. Perdue also made his most public call ever for a statewide vote on the Georgia flag. In 2001, the Legislature voted for a new flag, shrinking the Confederate battle emblem that had dominated the banner since 1956. Heritage groups and others angered by the flag change - which they said Mr. Barnes rammed through the Legislature - were considered instrumental in Mr. Perdue's victory.
"The debate over what symbol will represent us had divided our state and continues to divide our state," Mr. Perdue said. "To begin a new day in Georgia, we must have a healing process."
Mr. Perdue's flag talk drew strong responses from many lawmakers. Some said the state has more pressing issues to deal with, and others had harsh words for the plan.
"We're here as a result of a vote," said Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta. "All of us have a feel of what our constituents want."
Mr. Perdue has previously called for a nonbinding referendum, letting Georgians suggest a new flag but leaving the final decision to the General Assembly.
The governor's speech - which lasted 32 minutes and was interrupted 31 times by applause - also called on lawmakers to revisit district lines drawn two years ago.
He said the boundaries should be based on county lines and other natural common interests rather than partisan voting patterns. "Elections ought to be about the future, not the past," he said.
He said his floor leaders in the Legislature will introduce a bill prohibiting future Legislatures from using political data on maps. While most Democrats showed little zeal for returning to the bitter process of map-drawing, at least some who were unhappy with the results cheered the thought.
Mr. Perdue told lawmakers that he will introduce a package of ethics laws today. He made governing the behavior of politicians a key part of his campaign, and on Monday he said maintaining the public's trust would be his "guiding principle" as governor.
Overall, legislators in the audience said Mr. Perdue did a better job than in his other speeches since his election.
"I think you can tell by the applause," said Sen. Don Cheeks, R-Augusta.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM PERDUE'S ADDRESS
Gov. Perdue initially announced a plan to scale back the homestead exemption tax relief program instituted by Gov. Barnes four years ago, but he said Monday that he will leave the program intact and make it permanent. He said he still plans to press the Legislature for an increase on taxes of alcohol and tobacco.
THE STATE FLAG
The governor called on leaders to set up a referendum, saying, "I'm willing to trust the people of Georgia to make the best decision for Georgia, and I trust you are, too." Since taking office, Mr. Perdue has proposed a nonbinding straw poll as the fastest way to get the issue to a vote, but has said he is leaving it to lawmakers to decide when the vote should occur.
ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT
Mr. Perdue plans to send an ethics reform package to the Legislature for consideration. Among other things, it would bar legislators from seeking favorable treatment for prisoners and stop candidate-to-candidate transfers of campaign donations.
Mr. Perdue announced Monday that he has asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker to withdraw an appeal of the state's redistricting case, which the U.S. Supreme Court already has agreed to hear. He wants lawmakers to redraw district lines after they adopt a statement of principles to guide future redistricting efforts. Those statements would forbid partisan gerrymandering.
Morris News Service reporter Dave Williams contributed to this report.
Walter Jones and Doug Gross can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or [email protected]
ATLANTA ó Republicaans in the Legislature have chafed for two years over a set of political maps passed by their opposition. Today the GOP plans to announce a plan to re-do the district maps they say unfairly help Democrats.
When the Legislature met for reapportionment in 2001, the ruling Democrats crafted state House and Senate maps to benefit them, packing Republicans as tightly as legally possible to reduce the number of GOP members in the Legislature.
Now that Republicans have taken control over the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction, they want to pass new rules for drawing those maps.
One of the proposed rules would be a ban on using political data when drawing district maps. That means lawmakers wouldnít be allowed to consider the way residents vote to draw districts that one party is likely to win.
The new chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, Dan Lee of Augusta, was a Democrat until a Republican won the governorís office in November. But even as a Democrat, Lee opposed the maps pushed by his party colleagues.
îWe need to think about the people of Georgia when we do these maps, not political gains,î Lee said Monday.
Backed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lee will propose measures governing redistricting at todayís meeting of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.
In addition to banning the use of political data, Republicans want to ban splitting precincts and discourage splitting counties.
After passing a new set of rules, the GOP wants to re-draw the stateís 56 Senate districts. îWeíre getting a new map, no doubt about it,î Lee said.
Itís still unclear whether that new map will take effect, though. District maps must pass both houses of the Legislature, and Democrats still control the House.
Even though chambers traditionally honor the otherís maps, both chambers were Democratic for more than a century.
The leader of the House Reapportionment Committee, Democrat Carolyn Hugley of Columbus, said she sees no need for new maps.
îI think weíve already addressed that, passed new maps and had them approved by the courts,î Hugley said.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 ó The Supreme Court aaccepted a politically charged redistricting case from Georgia today that could help determine the future of districts with overwhelming black majorities that have helped Republicans and hurt Democrats across the South and elsewhere in the country.
The "supermajority" black districts were created, in Congress and state legislatures, as part of a national Republican strategy in the 1980's and 90's, one that many black politicians supported at the time. It resulted in some safe Democratic districts with big black majorities, along with a sharply increased number of Republicans elected from suburban districts that had become increasingly white.
Now white and black Democrats are trying to reverse that trend in Georgia and elsewhere by redistributing some of the black voters and re-integrating suburban districts to gain a better chance of electing Democrats. But that effort has run up against a provision of the Voting Rights Act that the justices agreed to examine today.
The question in the case is whether the Voting Rights Act effectively freezes in place the districts sometimes referred to as "max-black," insulating them from any change that results in their becoming more integrated.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which covers states in the South, as well as parts of some other states, bars any electoral change without the approval of the attorney general or a federal court. To receive pre-clearance, as the approval process is known, the jurisdiction has to show that the change will not result in a "retrogression" in the position of racial minorities.
A special three-judge federal district court here ruled in April in a 2-to-1 decision that three Georgia Senate districts, drawn by the Democratic-controlled legislature, had failed the retrogression test by shrinking large black majorities to just under 50 percent. Even if the new plan preserved a reasonable chance for black candidates to be elected, the panel's majority said, it amounted to retrogression if it converted safe districts into merely competitive ones.
The Georgia Republican Party's chairman, Ralph Reed, organized the opposition to the redistricting plan and provided legal representation to four black Republican voters who opposed it in court.
Georgia's attorney general, Thurbert E. Baker, a Democrat, appealed the district court ruling to the Supreme Court. In his appeal, Georgia v. Ashcroft, No. 02-182, he argued that because "Section 5 represents a serious invasion of the most fundamental prerogatives of the states," the court should interpret the section narrowly.
"Section 5 cannot constitutionally require the drawing of supermajority minority legislative districts in order to create safe seats, rather than seats that afford minorities equal opportunities to win," he said.
The Justice Department opposed the state appeal and asked the justices to affirm the lower court's decision. Its brief said the district court's ruling had been faithful to Supreme Court precedents that regarded Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as imposing a straightforward retrogression test.
The issue is a complicated and evolving one, Prof. Richard L. Hasen, a specialist in election law at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said today in an interview. Professor Hasen said although it was widely accepted in the past that black candidates could usually win only from heavily black districts, that was no longer the case, particularly for black incumbents.
"Racially polarized voting is going down," Professor Hasen said. "If it used to take a 60-percent-black district to elect a black candidate and now it takes only 50 percent, is it retrogression to go from 60 percent to 50 percent?"
The answer is unclear under the Supreme Court's precedents, he said.
The political situation in Georgia may pose a problem for the court. Republicans unexpectedly gained control of the State Senate after the November election, when four Democrats switched their party affiliations. The new Republican majority has introduced a new districting plan that would reverse the Democratic plan and create new supermajorities of black voters.
While the assembly is still in Democratic hands, each house by tradition permits the other to draw its own district lines, Charles S. Bullock III, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, said. So it is possible that new lines could be in place by the time the Supreme Court hears the case in late April, raising a question of whether the case will be moot.
The justices' announcement that they would hear the case followed a long internal struggle. The appeal was considered at their closed-door conference five times since November, a fact that suggests a possible failed effort to draw up an opinion that might have decided the case summarily, without argument. The meaning and application of various provisions of the Voting Rights Act have long been subjects of contention among the justices.
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court revived a fight over Georgia legislative boundaries on Friday, agreeing to clarify how line-drawing must be done to protect the voting rights of minorities.
Justices will consider reinstating legislative district lines that a lower court rejected last spring. That three-judge panel said lawmakers wrongly reduced minority voting strength in several Georgia Senate districts.
States must redraw boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes. The Georgia case gives the Supreme Court a chance to clarify how states can redraw districts with heavy black populations, without violating the federal Voting Rights Act.
The challenged redistricting plan, drawn by the Democratic-controlled Legislature, shifted black voters from safe Democratic districts into adjacent districts. It was part of a strategy to oust Republicans.
After losing in the lower court, Georgia lawmakers redrew the Senate boundaries, and elections were held in November in the approved districts.
The elections went badly for Democrats. The state elected its first Republican governor in 130 years. Democrats lost state Senate seats in the election. Then after the election, Republicans took control of the Senate when four Democrats switched parties.
The Bush administration had urged justices to stay out of the case, which would have left the new map in place. The case will be argued this spring.
This is the second redistricting case arising from the 2000 census to be reviewed by the high court. Justices heard arguments in December in a dispute over a Mississippi congressional plan.
The case is Georgia v. Ashcroft, 02-182.
On the Net: Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/