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State Republican Party Chairman Ralph Reed says Georgia Democrats have “pointed a gun at the Republicans and shot themselves” with legislative redistricting maps that the GOP will challenge in court. The new, sickle-shaped, 13th Congressional District that snakes through parts of 10 metro Atlanta counties north and south of the city “in particular goes far beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court allows in using race as a factor in drawing congressional districts,” Reed says. Reed says that lawyers hired by the Republicans soon will file a formal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department. And they’ll ask a federal judge to intervene before any elections can be held in the newly configured districts. Whether or not a court challenge has merit, it might delay implementation of the new districts. That could force the state to use existing districts in the 2002 elections. The Republican Party and Georgians for Fair Redistricting and Election last year retained Atlanta-based Holland & Knight partners Frank B. Strickland and Anne W. Lewis to monitor the redistricting process and, if necessary, challenge those maps in court. Lewis echoes Reed’s assessment that all three maps — outlining the congressional districts and those for the Georgia House and Senate — “are subject to attack on constitutional grounds.” GOVERNOR CONFIDENT The governor’s office suggests Reed’s assessment is simply wishful thinking. Jocelyn Butler, a spokeswoman for Georgia Gov. Roy E. Barnes, says that lawyers appointed by State Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker to work with the governor on redistricting “were retained to make sure the state of Georgia was in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.” Those maps are legally defensible, says Atlanta-based Troutman & Sanders attorney Mark H. Cohen, one of three special assistant attorneys general that Baker appointed last year. “Reapportionment has always, at some point or another, been litigated in court,” he says. “No doubt, it will be this time. From the state’s perspective, we feel that the maps drawn by the General Assembly are fully defensible, and we will proceed accordingly. … It has been a legislative process. It hasn’t been a lawyer’s process.” Atlanta-based David F. Walbert of Parks, Chesin, Walbert & Miller, who also has been named as a special assistant attorney general, says, “I think the state is in pretty good shape.” Walbert, who defended the state in 1992 after it gerrymandered a majority-black district that subsequently elected U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, says he is confident enough in the new maps that he would defend the state “on a contingent basis.” But Arnall Golden Gregory partner James Randolph “Randy” Evans says that maps approved late Friday by the Democratic majority in the Georgia General Assembly create a “reversal of historical momentum” by “turning the clock backward for minority voters in Georgia.” Evans is counsel to U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and also served Newt Gingrich when he was speaker. In configuring districts where residents would be most likely to elect Democrats, state legislators declined to create any new largely minority districts, even though Georgia’s African-American population has risen in the past decade, Evans says. On the Congressional map, the districts of U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Cynthia McKinney retain a black majority. But legislators reduced the number of African-American voters in each of their districts, Evans says. “I think the state house maps are in dire trouble,” he continues. “You’ve taken literally a step back in time and simultaneously not maximized minority voting strength when you have a greater minority population. … All three maps, when taken as a whole, reflect a pattern or practice by the Democrats of Georgia to dilute minority voting strength.” The new maps include “districts that you would have expected from a Legislature in Georgia in the 1950s or the 1960s. In the name of preserving Democratic strongholds, we perpetuated the county unit system, and we perpetuated diluted minority voting strength,” Evans says. Russell D. Willard, a spokesman for the State Attorney General, says neither Baker nor his staff will comment on the merits of pending or prospective litigation. But in an interview with the Daily Report last May, Barnes insisted the Legislature “is long past” violating federal voting rights laws in its efforts to gerrymander districts along party lines. “You can take into consideration that certain racial groups have a propensity to vote a certain way,” he said during a breakfast interview at the newspaper offices at that time. “But it still comes down to a political process. It’s not a legal process. It is a pure political process.” At the time, Barnes also noted that state Republican leaders will have a hard time convincing African-Americans of their concern for minority voting rights following their opposition to changing the 1956 state flag. However, it’s uncertain if the Justice Department and courts will regard reapportionment as a purely political process, Evans counters. While there is no constitutional prohibition against political gerrymandering, federal laws prohibit it if it comes at the expense of minority voting strength, he says. “The question is, ‘Where is that line?’ “ “Lawyers can only get you so far. At some point, fundamentals of right and wrong when it comes to voting and the Voting Rights Act is what controls. I tell people I represent, ‘There are limits to where you can go, no matter how many lawyers you hire.’ “ CASE FOR GERRYMANDERING? Linda Hamrick, director of redistricting for Georgia’s State Republican Party, says she believes the Democrats have crossed the legal line in their zeal to bolster their political strength. “They are saying it’s political,” she says. “We think it’s possible there’s a case to be made for racial gerrymandering.” In the new 13th District, in particular, she claims, Democrats created “a highly Democratic district by tracking black precincts and drawing those lines following African-American voting strengths.” “We claim you cannot justify diluting minority voting strength for politics,” says Senate Minority Leader Eric B. Johnson of Savannah. Moreover, he says, since last year the state has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on legal fees to redraw district lines that benefit only the majority party. A year ago Monday, Baker appointed Cohen Walbert, and Thomas G. Sampson of Thompson, Kennedy, Sampson & Patterson as special assistant state attorneys general to assist him “by providing legal services to the Office of the Governor” on matters related to reapportionment and redistricting, according to state administrative orders. Since then, Walbert alone has billed $169,260.43 in legal fees, according to a letter that Baker’s Counsel, Daryl A. Robinson, sent to Johnson in September in response to a public records request. Johnson had not requested information on either Cohen’s or Sampson’s legal fees, and that information was not available Tuesday. The minority leader Tuesday called on the governor to stop using taxpayer funds for legal expenses associated with redistricting, saying it was “inappropriate” to ask taxpayers to pay legal fees to defend maps that the Democrats have said openly were driven by politics. In a news release issued Monday, Johnson claimed the state’s Democratic leaders “are trying to steal the elections and stick taxpayers with the bill�. The whole process is political and the Georgia Democratic Party should pay for their own lawyers.” Asked about Johnson’s allegations, Butler referred the question to the State Attorney General. Willard says that during the redistricting process, “Our office as well as our appointed special assistants have been asked to respond to legal questions that have arisen. Those questions have been posed by both Democratic and Republican legislators, and our office responded to those inquiries regardless of a legislator’s partisan affiliation.” Willard also says that any outside counsel retained by the state attorney general “represents the state of Georgia, not a political party. Once the Legislature passes a redistricting plan and the governor signs that plan, that plan becomes law in the state of Georgia. It is the responsibility of this office to defend that plan once it becomes law.” If legal issues raised by the Republicans’ planned litigation have any substance, the result could be a delay in elections from newly drawn districts until after the 2002 elections. But Reed insists, “The litigation is not based on trying to buy time.” The new districts currently pit Rep. Bob Barr and Rep. John Linder against each other in a single district. They also pit Rep. Saxby Chambliss against Rep. Jack Kingston in Savannah. All are incumbent Republicans. But Eric Tanenblatt, President George W. Bush’s state party chairman and now the managing director of Long Aldridge & Norman’s governmental affairs practice, says he doesn’t expect to see Georgia’s Republican congressmen challenge each other. “They’re very unified,” he says. “They have been meeting on a very regular basis. … I think what you’ll see is the delegation come together.” As a result, some Republicans may move across district lines, he says. And at least one now may challenge Sen. Max Cleland rather than go head-to-head against another Republican congressman. Meanwhile, “There is a team of lawyers that has been engaged in the process from the very start, both here in the state as well as nationally,” Tanenblatt says. “If a legal challenge is to be made, we’re going to make it. The Republicans feel very strongly the way this whole process was handled was not very open or fair. … The Republicans are going to exhaust any challenges.”

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