Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U.S. 461 (2003)

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appeal from the united states district court for the district of columbia

No. 02-182. Argued April 29, 2003—Decided June 26, 2003

Georgia's 1997 State Senate districting plan is the benchmark plan for this litigation. That plan drew 56 districts, 11 of them with a total black population of over 50%, and 10 of them with a black voting age population of over 50%. The 2000 census revealed that these numbers had increased so that 13 districts had a black population of at least 50%, with the black voting age population exceeding 50% in 12 of those districts. After the 2000 census, the Georgia General Assembly began redistricting the Senate once again. It is uncontested that a substantial majority of Georgia's black voters vote Democratic, and that all elected black representatives in the General Assembly are Democrats. The Senator who chaired the subcommittee that developed the new plan testified he believed that as a district's black voting age population increased beyond what was necessary to elect a candidate, it would push the Senate more toward the Republicans, and correspondingly diminish the power of African-Americans overall. Thus, part of the Democrats' strategy was not only to maintain the number of majority-minority districts and increase the number of Democratic Senate seats, but also to increase the number of so-called "influence" districts, where black voters would be able to exert a significant—if not decisive—force in the election process. The new plan therefore "unpacked" the most heavily concentrated majority-minority districts in the benchmark plan, and created a number of new influence districts, drawing 13 districts with a majority-black voting age population, 13 additional districts with a black voting age population of between 30%-50%, and 4 other districts with a black voting age population of between 25%-30%. When the Senate adopted the new plan, 10 of the 11 black Senators voted for it. The Georgia House of Representatives passed the plan with 33 of the 34 black Representatives voting for it. No Republican in either body voted for the plan, making the votes of the black legislators necessary for passage. The Governor signed the Senate plan into law in 2001.

Because Georgia is a covered jurisdiction under 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it must submit any new voting "standard, practice, or procedure" for preclearance by either the United States Attorney General or the District Court for the District of Columbia in order to ensure that the change "does not have the purpose [or] effect of denying


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