Plaintiffs challenging North Carolina’s new state Senate election map are asking a federal judge to make a decision Thursday about issuing a preliminary injunction.
Critics of the Senate plan filed their latest court document Tuesday evening. It argues for blocking two Senate districts in northeastern North Carolina. Plaintiffs contend that the districts run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act because of racial gerrymandering.
Election Day 2024 may still be 11 months away, but the first stage of the battle over control of the House is underway, with redistricting fights being waged in courtrooms from Louisiana to New York.
In a dozen states, congressional maps drawn after the 2020 Census have been challenged under federal voting rights law and the U.S. Constitution, leading to drawn-out legal battles in some states over the redistricting plans they began crafting in 2021. Disputes in Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama, in particular, have been closely watched, as Democrats could pick up a seat in each of the states.
“All are places where districts are at play, and it still remains unclear in a lot of these places whether there are changes that will result in Republican-drawn gerrymanders being undone,” said Kareem Crayton, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Republican lawmakers are likely heading back to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend Wisconsin’s electoral maps that have delivered huge GOP majorities for years. But they’ll first have to convince the nation’s high court it has a reason to intervene in the dispute.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Republican-controlled state Legislature to draw new legislative boundaries ahead of the 2024 election, arguing the maps are unconstitutional because many disticts’ boundaries are not contiguous — meaning they include pieces of land that are not connected.
The court in a 4-3 decision said it is also prepared to replace the state’s heavily gerrymandered maps if the Legislature and Democratic governor cannot agree on a new plan.
WESA (NPR Pittsburgh):
Allegheny County Council voted Tuesday in favor of a new process for drawing the boundaries of its own council districts.
New boundaries are drawn for legislative districts after each national census. Under county council’s current rules, that process has been controlled by the council president.
Under new rules proposed by outgoing Councilor Tom Duerr, however, council will establish a bipartisan commission to create and recommend three maps for council to consider. Commission representatives must be familiar with the use of data, the redistricting process, and community outreach. After the commission presents three maps, council members will be able to submit their own options.
The Morning analyzes how redistricting for Congress is shaping up after the rounds of litigation. Its conclusion: The Republican Party’s advantage is fading.
“If everything goes Democrats’ way, roughly 10 House seats could become meaningfully easier to win. Next year, the party needs to net only five seats to reclaim the House. New York alone could switch six seats from leaning Republican to leaning Democrat. . . .
Even if litigation results are more mixed, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report says that the redistricting process will leave each party with a similar shot at securing the Speakership. That of course does not mean that most districts will be competitive.
The newest episode of Our Body Politic has an excellent segment on Alabama’s redistricting fights. It is clear and accessible, and ends with a stark bottom line:
“The State of Alabama has never expanded the franchise to black voters on its own accord.”
Bolts Magazine. I see this story as relevant to a basic question that I think is going to confront the field of election law (and, more broadly, the law of democratic procedures) over the next decade or so: the extent to which decisions should be made on the basis of majority rule. Watching the fight over Issue 1 unfold in Ohio, I became convinced of the importance of preserving the right of the citizenry to control the machinery of their self-government by means of a majority vote. I recognize that there have been arguments in favor of a supermajority requirement for constitutional change, but on balance I think the risk of “minority rule” through a supermajority requirement is greater than the risk of an oppressive majority. Certainly, it would have been a serious problem for self-government in Ohio if Issue 1 had prevailed in raising the threshold for constitutional change to 60%. That would have made it extremely difficult to adopt new anti-gerrymandering reform, for example, to redress the way that incumbent politicians managed to negate the efficacy of the previous anti-gerrymandering reforms in the state during the last decade.
“Hearings over the new map kicked off in federal court in Alabama on Monday, and the state is once again arguing that it is not illegally diluting the power of Black voters. This week’s hearing will be crucial to determining if the fight wraps up quickly — or stretches on for potentially years to come.
“It’s not an academic exercise. The court’s decision could have significant ramifications nationally; Democrats could pick up an additional seat in Congress where they are a handful of seats shy of a majority, and the fight could ultimately make its way back to the Supreme Court. A second majority-Black district in the state would likely lead to a second Democratic representative as well. …
“During Monday’s hearing, all three of the judges on the panel questioned if Alabama was ignoring the court. Federal District Court Judge Terry F. Moorer, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, pointedly asked if Alabama had chosen to “deliberately disregard” their instructions when drawing the new map, the Associated Press reported. …
“Republicans argue that the new map they redrew effectively resets the clock for litigation. The defendants acknowledge in a brief that the court “opined” that there should be two majority-Black voting districts, or close to that. But, they argue, that act of the legislature redrawing the map effectively starts the process of challenging the lines over — especially because the legislature prioritized keeping specific “communities of interest” together in 2023, which they say was a change from the 2021 map the court previously stuck down.
“Attorneys for the plaintiffs reject that assertion, arguing that by allowing the state to name new redistricting principles as they redraw would amount to giving ‘the state infinite bites at the apple. …
“The three-judge panel that ordered the state to redraw the maps in the first place seems unlikely to buy this argument from Republicans. In addition to the questioning in the court on Monday, in an earlier order, the judges wrote that the court is “not at square one” and would not “relitigate” the likely violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
AP reports. “Wisconsin’s nationally peculiar practice of detached districts is cited as one of several alleged violations in a recent lawsuit seeking to strike down current Assembly and Senate districts and replace them before the 2024 election. …
“Wisconsin’s detached districts are ‘profoundly weird,’ said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School in Los Angeles who created the All About Redistricting website. …
“’When you allow mapmakers to draw districts that are noncontiguous, you give them even more flexibility to perpetrate abuse,’” Levitt said.”
Cleveland.com reports on the effort to adopt in Ohio a citizens redistricting commission (like the kind in Arizona, California, or Michigan), rather than the failed political-insiders commission that Ohio adopted in the previous effort at redistricting reform in the state.
N.Y. Times previews new federal court hearing in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling that affirmed the invalidation of the previous map under the Voting Rights Act.
“In the new map, Republicans chose to increase the percentage of Black voters in one of the state’s six majority-white congressional districts to about 40 percent from about 30 percent, ignoring an outcry from Democrats and Black residents. …
“The panel of judges will convene in Birmingham on Monday for a hearing to decide whether the map should remain in place.”
“The redistricting process may seem arcane and academic, even negligible, but it is a foundation of representative democracy. “There are all these voter-suppression laws being passed around the country, but in a lot of ways those are like a death by a thousand cuts that make it harder in incremental ways to vote,” Michael Li, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, told me. “But gerrymandering is a little bit like a nuclear bomb that levels everything in its place. Because it means that even if you jump through all the hurdles—the I.D. requirements, the elimination of drop boxes, the shortening of voting hours—and are able to vote, your vote doesn’t matter.” Once the basic tenets of democracy—one person, one vote in a government of the people—are subverted, other devolutions follow. This is why Congress is so often out of step with public opinion on issues like gun control and immigration reform. It is what we are now seeing with the curtailing of abortion rights: a group of conservative Supreme Court Justices, three of whom were appointed by a President who was not elected by a popular majority, are poised to overthrow a precedent favored by nearly seventy per cent of the country. And, once they do, conservative legislators in states across the country will be positioned to impose their own deeply unpopular beliefs on their constituents.”
This very useful analysis explains how the FTVA’s rebuttable presumption of unlawful gerrymandering works and identifies which new congressional maps would trigger that presumption. Unsurprisingly, maps drawn by legislators are much more likely to trigger the presumption than maps drawn by commissions or courts. Also unsurprisingly, both Democratic and Republican legislators draw highly biased maps when they have the opportunity to do so.
We found that states where Republicans control the state legislatures draw congressional maps that disproportionately favor Republican candidates. For instance, in Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, Republican candidates are likely to win more seats than if they won seats in proportion to their share of the statewide vote. The Ohio map, for example, makes it likely that Republicans will win two more seats than you would expect, given that in the elections since 2016, 55 percent of voters pulled the lever for Republicans and 45 percent for Democrats.
Indiana, Iowa and Utah, where Republican-controlled legislatures draw the maps, will likely have similar results, with Republican candidates winning one more seat than you would expect from their proportion of the vote. Under the FTVA, if someone brought suit and the federal courts couldn’t assess the map before the state’s 2022 primaries, the courts would have the power to put in place a temporary map or postpone the primary.
Democrats do the same when they draw maps. In blue states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Oregon, Democratic-controlled legislatures draw maps that are just as likely to tilt districts to their party’s advantage. For instance, Illinois’ map is a mirror image of North Carolina’s, drawn to systematically advantage Democrats — likely giving them about 2.5 more congressional seats than their usual proportion of statewide votes would suggest.
In some states, however, commissions draw the maps. Four states — Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan — have created commissions that draw districts independently from the legislature. Our analysis finds that the commissions in California, Colorado and Michigan successfully balanced various competing criteria and created the most balanced maps of the cycle so far. The plan in Arizona would trigger the FTVA’s presumption, though the independent commission there might be able to rebut that presumption.