- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The Supreme Court of the United States Friday agreed to hear Georgia's appeal in a state Senate redistricting case.

A lower court said a state plan illegally diluted black voting majorities.

But at the center of the dispute is whether black voters can be considered on an equal footing with white voters when they make up less than 50 percent of the voting-age population in a district.

Georgia maintains that, in an open-seat election, black voters gain equal control with whites when they reach a little more than 44 percent of the voting age population.

Georgia is one of the geographical areas covered by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Under the law, substantial changes that affect minority-voting patterns must be approved by a U.S. District Court panel in Washington or by the attorney general.

The state adopted redistricting plans for Congress and for the state House and Senate following the 2000 census, and asked a U.S. court in Washington for clearance.

The Justice Department did not challenge the state's congressional and state House redistricting plans, but objected to the state Senate plan because it reduced the black voting-age population in three districts.

Under an earlier plan, the black voting-age population in the three state Senate districts would have been 54.94 percent or higher, and the population of black registered voters was 52.48 percent or higher.

Under the plan proposed by the state, however, the black voting-age population in the three districts would be 50.39 percent or lower, and the population of black registered voters was 48.42 percent or lower.

Georgia "proposed to reduce black registered voter majorities in all three districts to below 50 percent," the Justice Department said in a brief.

A three-judge panel in Washington approved Georgia's congressional and state House redistricting plans, but agreed with the Justice Department that the state Senate plan was flawed.

The court rejected testimony by a state witness that the "point of equal opportunity" for black voters to elect a candidate of their choice was a black voting age population of 44.3 percent or higher in an open-seat election.

The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case Friday.

Argument should be heard later this spring, and the court should hand down a decision before the summer recess in late June or early July.

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(No. 02-182, Georgia vs. Ashcroft et al)


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