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Supreme Court reaches decision

By Justin Reedy

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on redistricting in the Georgia Senate won't affect Clayton County's districts, legislators say, but could lead to the Democratic Party regaining control of that body.

The court on Thursday ruled in a 5-4 decision to give states more latitude for drawing political districts in predominately black areas. That move could pave the way for a Senate district map drawn in 2001 n a map that would help Democrats in the next round of elections.

That old map was rejected by a district court, which said the document weakened the strength of minority voters by spreading them out into more districts and increasing the likelihood of Democratic victories. But the Supreme Court held that the district court incorrectly examined the map, and ordered the lower court to reconsider it based on all factors, not just minority voting strength.

If the old map is approved, Democrats say they will have a good chance of retaking control of the state Senate, which was controlled by Republicans this session after last year's election and the shift of some legislators to the GOP.

"That's good news," said Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, who served as president pro tem of the Senate before the GOP takeover this session. "That's the objective, (to take back the Senate)."

"Obviously, I'm pleased with the ruling," added state Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, the chairwoman of the Clayton County legislative delegation. "Frankly, I'm not surprised, because I think we acted in good faith the whole time (during redistricting)."

But Republicans disagree, saying the Democratic-controlled state legislature was wrong to pass the original map.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court?does nothing to change our position that the maps passed by Democrats in the redistricting process were wrong and illegal," said Alec Poitevint, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. "The voters of our state will be the final arbiters on whether the maps passed by Democrats in 2001 pass muster."

But Democrats say the GOP was only arguing about minority voting strength because it was a way to combat a map that favored Democratic candidates.

"The map carried a great majority of the vote in the House and Senate," said Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton. "If this helps someone more than someone else, it's because the people wanted it that way."

In addition, they say that the GOP's strategy n not their own n would dilute black political power.

"It's a bit dubious to say they're concerned about minority voting strength when they want to pack minority voters into districts," said Jeff DeSantis, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "That would make districts with super majorities, so there are fewer districts where minority voters make up a large voting bloc."

The three Senate districts that will be most affected by the likely change to the old map are in Albany, Savannah and Macon, Starr said, so there probably won't be any shift in Clayton County's district lines.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.