ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday signed off on new political boundaries for Georgia's U.S. House districts but there's still no word on whether he will seek needed approval of the state maps through the Justice Department or the federal courts.
Georgia's growing population translated into a new 14th congressional seat. Republican leaders placed the political prize in the conservative northeast corner of the state, the governor's home turf.
The new map is expected to add to the Georgia GOP's 8-5 edge in the current 13-member congressional delegation.
The congressional plan Deal signed Wednesday also creates a fourth U.S. House district with a majority of black voters. That new majority minority district is in southwest Georgia and is represented by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Democrat.
The GOP-authored map targets U.S. Rep. John Barrow, of Savannah, the last white Democrat in the U.S. House from the Deep South. Barrow's residence is no longer in his new district and he loses the base of his support — largely African American — in Chatham County, under the plan.
Georgia Republicans this year controlled the once-a-decade redistricting process for the first time, following generations of Democratic rule.
In a statement, Deal praised lawmakers for drawing districts "that are compact, that keep communities of interest together and that visually make sense."
"Additionally, these maps honor the guidelines we must follow under federal law," Deal said.
Deal has already signed maps redrawing the 236 state Senate and House districts.
Under the Voting Rights Act, the state must submit all the new maps for approval to either the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts. Deal says he is working with state Attorney General Sam Olens and legislative leaders to decide which path to take.
Georgia must receive preclearance under the Voting Rights Act because of a past history of discrimination. Federal officials need to ensure the changes don't weaken African-American voting power.
Even if the maps pass federal muster, they are expected to face a legal challenge from Democrats, who contend the maps rip apart their party's successful efforts to forge multi-racial coalitions.
Lawmakers must retool political boundaries every 10 years to conform to new U.S. Census data.