Did you think that redistricting is done until 2030? Think again. The districts are still up in the air in Ohio and North Carolina, and possibly New York, depending on the judge Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) nominates to replace her failed nominee, Hector LaSalle.
The action right now is in Ohio, so let's look at that first. In 2012, Ohio Republicans drew a House map that gave them a 12R, 4D advantage, even though the state is only moderately red. That held for years without a single seat flipping.
Meanwhile, the voters were getting tired of all this gerrymandering and in 2018 passed a constitutional amendment stating that districts could not unduly favor or disfavor any party. What does that actually mean? Only the state Supreme Court knows for sure, but it didn't like the map the legislature passed. Think Potter Stewart, except "I can't define gerrymander, but I know it when I see it." In a scathing ruling, in Jan. 2022, a 4-3 majority struck the map down, accusing the legislature of failing to "heed the clarion call sent by Ohio voters to stop political gerrymandering."
So Republicans sent the map-making process back to the Republican-dominated map-making commission with instructions to try again. The new map was slightly less gerrymandered than the old map, but not by much. Democrats were livid, also because state Supreme Court justice Pat DeWine, the governor's son, refused to recuse himself for matters relating to a map his father had helped draw. In July 2022, the Court struck down the new map by a 4-3 margin again, but too late to affect the Nov. 2022 elections so it was used, even though it was illegal.
Despite a bad map, the Democrats did tolerably well in Ohio in November. Although Tim Ryan lost a Senate race to hillbilly author J.D. Vance, otherwise the Democrats did pretty well with the provisional map. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) won in a Trumpy district in Toledo and the Democrats finally beat Steve Chabot in Cincinnati. They also successfully defended Ryan's open seat. These wins, plus the state's loss of a House seat, changed the delegation from 4D, 12R to 5D, 10R. Since the Republican majority went from 8 seats to 5 seats, that is a net gain of +3 for the Democrats.
Republicans think those seats are rightfully theirs and want them back. They have a chance now because last November, three Republicans were elected to the state Supreme Court. Republicans could draw a map even more biased than any they have drawn before and there is a good chance the newly constituted Supreme Court would approve it. In fact, they need to do something because the current map has been ruled illegal. If nothing happens, the illegal map will be used again in 2024. That might not be so bad for the Democrats because the current illegal map is better than the one the Republicans want to pass but haven't yet.
But it is more complicated than that. The 2018 amendment stated that if the map the commission drew did not have majority support of both parties, it is valid for only two elections. So a new map will be needed in 2026, no matter what.
But there is even more. Although the Ohio Supreme Court has shifted sharply to the right, the state legislature has moved toward the center. Although the Republicans hold a 66-32 majority in the lower chamber, the Republicans' proposed candidate for speaker was so radical that a third of the Republican caucus joined with the Democrats to elect Jason Stephens (R) speaker over the much more conservative Derek Merrin (R). Part of the deal was that Stephens would work with the Democrats on fair maps. So we are now waiting for him to come up with that new map.
Hanging over all of this is the U.S. Supreme Court's case of Moore v. Harper in which the plaintiffs say that state legislatures get to draw the maps and the governor, independent commissions, and the courts have no say in the matter, whatsoever. Hearings have been held on this case, which would completely upend democracy if Samuel Alito & Co. want to go down that road. A decision is expected in June. The leak hasn't been scheduled yet.
Now on to North Carolina. Here too, the state Supreme Court is at the center of a battle over the district maps. As in Ohio, the Republican-controlled state legislature drew a highly gerrymandered map, And as in Ohio, the state Supreme Court, which had a 4-3 Democratic majority, struck it down in February 2022. But there wasn't enough time before the primary to draw a new map, so the illegal map was used in the primary and general election in 2022. After the election, the Court heard the case again in Dec. 2022 and once again ruled the map illegal.
Now, in a shocking development, the Court has agreed to rehear the case that it heard only 2 months ago. What happened? Well, in November, there were partisan elections for the state Supreme Court and the Republicans got a 5-2 majority on the Court and they want to undo the previous ruling. Oral arguments are next month. And again, if the plaintiffs win in Harper v. Moore, state legislatures will be free to draw any maps they want, even if they violate state laws and the state Constitution.
And while they were at it, the new NC justices also decided to rehear another December ruling that struck down the state's' voter-ID law. The old Court ruled that it placed an undue burden on minority voters, in violation of the state Constitution. But of course, the state Constitution means whatever the current membership of the Supreme Court says it means, and that can change from election to election. Of course, if the NC Supreme Court overrules itself within 6 months, it was expose the inconvenient truth that justices are just partisan politicians in robes. That will not do wonders for enhancing the reputation of the Judicial Branch for, say, justice. But when there elections to be won and power to be gained, who cares what people think?
In New York, everything is on hold until Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) nominates a new justice to the state's highest court and he or she is confirmed. With the right justice in place, the state legislature might try to gerrymander the state again and hope for a better result than the last time they did this (the courts struck it down).
In case anyone had the idea that the courts are impartial arbiters and just follow the laws and Constitutions, all we can say is get out from the rock you have been hiding under and take a look around you. (V)