Democrat officials praise ruling by federal judge

Oct. 28—Democratic leaders throughout Georgia are applauding a Thursday ruling by a federal judge that contends some of Georgia's congressional, state Senate and state House district lines were drawn in a racially discriminatory manner.

One of them is Quentin T. Howell, chairman of the Baldwin County Democratic Committee.

Howell talked with The Union-Recorder on Thursday night concerning reaction to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones. Diane Evans, chairwoman of the Jefferson County Democratic Committee, also shared some of her thoughts about the judge's decision.

In the 516-page order, Jones ordered Georgia lawmakers, made up of a majority of Republicans and Gov. Brian Kemp, to fix the maps by Dec. 8 or he would redraw the districts himself.

A short time after the ruling, the governor issued a call for a special session of the Georgia General Assembly for Wednesday, Nov. 29. During the special session, state lawmakers will begin work to redraw congressional, as well as state Senate and state House districts.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court stood behind its interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, and rejected a challenge to the law in Alabama.

Georgia's ruling Thursday comes on the heels of recent decisions in Alabama and Florida where Republican majority legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of Black residents.

Similar legal challenges to congressional districts are also ongoing in South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

Jones' ruling follows a September trial that lasted eight days. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that Black voters continue to fight opposition from white voters and need assistance from the federal justice level to help them get a fair shot. Those on the opposing end of the lawsuit argued that court intervention was not needed for Black voters.

"Georgia has made great strides since 1965 toward equality in voting," Jones wrote in his lengthy ruling. "However, the evidence before this court shows that Georgia has not reached the point where the political process has equal openness and equal opportunity for everyone."

Howell said he was elated for the people of Milledgeville and Baldwin County, as well as all Georgians, but specifically for those people whose districts are going to be affected by this ruling.

"It's going to finally give them fair representation, not representation that's been gerrymandered with carved out districts to try to weigh one side over another," Howell said. "That's not what the people want. Some things shouldn't be left or right or Democrat or Republican. Some things should just be fair. Districts and how we vote should just be fair."

When the new district lines were initially drawn in Georgia, Howell said he and other longtime Democrats knew right away that it would be extremely unfair to the minority population.

"I also looked at it from the perspective that in all honesty if it's unfair to the minority population, then it's unfair to all the population," Howell said. "Dr. King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere."

Howell was referring to a famous quote from the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The local Democratic leader said he doesn't believe in gerrymandering on either political side.

"It should not take place," Howell said. "When ever we start tinkering unfairly, like the Republican Party did here in the State of Georgia, and unfortunately, in multiple other states, too, it brings up major questions concerning our elections."

He believes in advocating for all people when they are right and doing the fair thing.

"But I can't advocate for them when the scales weigh more on one side than they do another," Howell said.

He said there was a big difference in being cracked and stacked.

"And that's illegal," Howell said. "You can't just take all the minority votes and stick them in one area because it dilutes the vote. And when you break up the vote, you're cracking it up so it doesn't have as large of an impact."

He said Baldwin County was an example of being cracked.

"This county was targeted after the 2020 election," Howell said. "The Republican majority state legislature targeted Baldwin County, because Baldwin County had increasingly been growing blue in national races, and closely growing blue in state Senate and state House races. And instead of fighting ideals and policies, they took and gerrymandered this district so one party could have more power than the other."

Diane Evans, who along with Annie Grant, chairwoman of the Greene County Democratic Committee, actually testified in the federal court case, said she, too, believes wholeheartedly that fairness should go into the redrawing of the district voting lines in the Peach State.

Evans has been a guest speaker of the Baldwin County Democratic Committee events on several occasions in recent years.

"I think it is wonderful what the federal judge said in his ruling," Evans said. "It's exciting because it gives us motivation to know that we can go through the courts and they will hear our plea."

Evans said she was so glad to know that this federal judge was going to hold state lawmakers' feet to the fire so they do the fair thing this time around.