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Judge: 1 county may split from Georgia judicial circuit

July 14, 2021 GMT

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia judge has confirmed the constitutionality of a state law that will allow a county to break away into a new judicial circuit.

The decision means that Columbia County will separate from the Augusta Judicial Circuit, leaving Richmond and Burke counties in the circuit.

In March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill authorizing the change. Columbia County was scheduled to form its own circuit July 1. However, attorney Willie Saunders challenged the legislation, arguing that it violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for Saunders and Black Voters Matter argued that creating a separate judicial circuit for Columbia County would void every vote in Columbia County for the first Black district attorney in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, The Augusta Chronicle reported. The new judicial circuit will have another district attorney.

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“Senate Bill 9, in my estimation, nullifies my vote,” Saunders said while testifying, according to WJBF-TV.

After hearing hours of testimony, Senior Judge Adele Grubbs ruled Monday that the law can take effect.

Grubbs said the the judicial circuit can split as soon as Friday. A restraining order issued by another judge remains in effect until Thursday.

Saunders’ attorney Jack Long said he will appeal the judge’s ruling.