ATLANTA – A three-judge federal panel threw out Georgia's legislative map Tuesday, ruling that the Democrats violated the Constitution by trying to map out an advantage for their party.
The court barred the state from using the House and Senate maps in legislative elections this summer and fall and gave the Legislature until March 1 to draw new boundaries or face the possibility that the court might do it.
Republicans had sued over the redistricting plan, arguing that Democrats in control in 2001 and 2002 crammed Republican voters into relatively few districts while spreading out Democrats over as many districts as possible. The court agreed with GOP lawmakers that the redistricting violated the Constitution's "one person-one vote" provision, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The way the process was done and the way the maps were configured was just wrong for voters," said Senate Republican Leader Bill Stephens (search). He called Tuesday "a great day for democracy."
The Legislature is in session but the ruling caught its leaders without a plan for coming up with new maps in less than three weeks.
"Naturally it's something that will change the whole complexity of the session," said House Rules Chairman Calvin Smyre (search), a Democrat.
The court said if lawmakers cannot submit a new plan by March 1, plaintiffs can ask the court to draw an interim plan for the July 20 primary election and the Nov. 2 general election.
In a first legal challenge to the plan, Republicans failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that the redistricting maps illegally diluted black voting strength. A second challenge was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, contending the plans violated the one person-one vote principle, which requires an equal distribution of the population among districts.
In Tuesday's ruling, the judges noted that the population deviation among districts was nearly 10 percent and declared that lawmakers seeking to protect Democratic incumbents "made no effort to make the districts as nearly of equal population as was practicable."
Despite the maps, Republicans picked up two Senate seats in the 2002 elections. Four Democratic senators have since switched their party affiliation, giving the GOP the majority in the chamber, but Democrats still control the House.