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Feds Approve New Voting Districts

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ATLANTA (AJC/WAOK)-The Department of Justice on Friday delivered Georgia Republicans a major victory when it signed off on the state’s plan to redraw political boundaries, delivering the GOP a win but also denying it the chance to strike down the Voting Rights Act.

Georgia Democrats, say the GOP-backed redistricting plan for state House, Senate and congressional seats violates the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Democrats can now file their own suit to challenge the maps.

Republicans, who pushed through the new maps over Democratic objections during a special August legislative session, had simultaneously submitted its plan to the Justice Department for preclearance and sued the DOJ in federal court. Had the Justice Department rejected its maps, the state would have moved forward with its lawsuit.

Republicans had said publicly that they saw the court case as an avenue toward a declaration that the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. With the DOJ’s approval of its redistricting plan, however, that now seems moot.

Here is a statement released from the Governor’s office.

“The state of Georgia put forth a tremendous team effort. The maps offer rational district lines, equitable representation and meet the strict standards of the Voting Rights Act,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “The Justice Department’s decision demonstrates that our state’s districts serve our diverse population well. The Legislature conducted an open and fair process that allowed input from all parts of the state, and the final product reflects legislators’ hard work and diligence. Special thanks also goes to Attorney General Sam Olens, who shepherded the maps through the preclearance process.”

“I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice affirmed that Georgia’s new legislative and congressional plans meet the legal requirements of the Voting Rights Act,” said Attorney General Sam Olens. “The responsible approach taken by the General Assembly during the redistricting process resulted in carefully drawn maps, which ensure that Georgia’s growing population will be fairly represented. In fact, this redistricting cycle marks the first time since the Voting Rights Act became law that all of Georgia’s plans have been approved on the first review. I applaud the excellent work of Gov. Deal,  Lt. Gov. Casey, Speaker Ralston and the General Assembly, and outside counsel Strickland Brockington Lewis throughout the process to ensure a positive outcome for the citizens of Georgia.”

“From the beginning of this process, all of us have been committed to ensuring that Georgia’s legislative and congressional maps are fair and meet all legal requirements, including compliance with the Voting Rights Act,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said. “Today’s decision by the Department of Justice is a validation of our commitment to those principles. I appreciate the diligent work of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee as well as the entire Senate that resulted in this important approval.”

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Justice Department is welcome news and validates what we have been saying all along — that these maps are fair, sensible and fully comply with the Voting Rights Act. I appreciate House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee Chairman Roger Lane, the members of his committee and the staff for their efforts that allowed us to successfully reach this point.”

Today’s approval by the Democratically controlled Justice Department marks the first time in Georgia’s history that the federal government has approved all three statewide redistricting plans on the first review. The federal approval means that the new districts will be used in the 2012 elections.

Democrats argued that the proposed maps, based on the 2010 Census, violate the Voting Rights Act and dilute minority voting strength, while also targeting white Democrats for defeat. Republicans, however, said the process was fair and open and that the maps reflect only shifts in the state’s population.

Then there was this release from Democratic Senator Ronald Ramsey.

On today, the Department of Justice granted pre-clearance to the Senate, House and Congressional maps. Democrats remain optimistic in this first round of the redistricting process. In previous years, the Department of Justice has pre-cleared Georgia’s maps only to have the courts intervene following additional litigation and demand new maps be drawn under court supervision.

Democrats support maps that are fair and do not polarize communities that have been successfully integrated through the Voting Rights Act. We will continue to fight for maps that recognize the voices of African-Americans, Latinos and others. The pre-cleared maps reduce the voting strength of these communities, sending Georgia in the wrong direction.

The maps have the effect of creating a Republican super-majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. This would be devastating to Georgia citizens and will silence the voices of nearly fifty percent of the state’s population for the next decade.

Legal Specifics with Pre-clearance:

*   With pre-clearance, the maps will immediately take effect because the Governor has already signed them into law.

*   The 2012 elections will be run using these pre-cleared maps unless the courts intervene.

More in this report from the AJC.

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