Gerrymandering Is Hot
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that racial gerrymandering is banned by what is left of the Voting Rights Act, but
partisan gerrymandering does not violate any federal law, so it is for the states to decide, not the Supremes. That said, there is quite a bit of
on that front now, as follows:
- Alabama: Alabama used to have two Black-majority districts until the
2020 redistricting. Even though Alabama neither gained a House seat nor lost one—so it didn't
have to do serious redistricting, just minor tweaks due to population shifts—the
Republican-controlled state legislature decided to split up one of the Black districts to give the
Republicans an extra seat. The Supreme Court
batted them down
in Allen v. Milligan and told them to fix it. So they drew a new map, also with just one
Black-majority seat. An appeals court just threw out the new map. If the legislature doesn't do as
ordered and create a second Black district, the courts are going to let a special master draw
- Florida: After the 2020 census, Florida got an extra House seat so the
Republican-dominated legislature went to town and drew a new and hugely gerrymandered map. To
everyone's surprise, Ron DeSantis vetoed it. Then he proceeded to draw an even more gerrymandered
map and force-fed it to the legislature, which meekly approved it. Among other things, it eliminated
a Black-majority district in Northern Florida. Democrats sued. Both parties are now
the state Supreme Court to take up the case without delay. They want the districts to be clear by
January, so candidates can start filing.
- Georgia: Here again, the Republican-controlled state legislature drew
a highly gerrymandered map favorable to itself. Democrats sued. The case is being
in federal court in front of U.S. District Judge Steve Jones (yes, that Steve Jones). Democrats are
contending that the map violates the federal Voting Rights Act and is thus illegal. Jones has said
he would like to rule before Thanksgiving. The case could be appealed a couple of times but the
Supreme Court seems to be of the opinion that racial gerrymanders are not allowed, only
partisan ones. So the case will hinge not on the fact that the map is gerrymandered. Everyone agrees
about that. The issue is why it was gerrymandered. Republicans will argue it was simply to gain an
extra seat. Democrats will argue that they turned a Black seat into a white seat.
A county court found that the state's map was gerrymandered but did not find it unconstitutional. State Democrats
directly to the state Supreme Court, bypassing the state appeals court. The state Supreme Court took
the case. The question is legal, not political. The Democrats are arguing that the
Republican-controlled legislature split up more counties than the state Constitution allows. To try
to minimize gerrymandering, a number of states have provisions in their Constitutions stating that
each county is to be put in its entirety in one congressional district, unless that is basically
impossible. For example, a district is supposed to have about 760,000 people, but a county with way
more than that simply has to be split. The Democrats are arguing that the Republicans split more
counties than necessary, hence the map is unconstitutional.
In Louisiana, the situation is similar to Alabama. Again here, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court
a second Black district to be drawn. The ruling doesn't explain why the Court allowed the invalid
map to be used in 2022, but it is not going to allow it to be used in 2024. Again here, if the
political branch won't address the problem, then the judicial branch will.
- New York: Democrats control the trifecta in New York. In 2020, they
got greedy and drew a very gerrymandered map. The Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York,
threw it out and drew its own. Since then, the balance in the Court of Appeals has changed, giving
Democratic appointees the majority. Democrats in the legislature want to draw a new map that is
slightly less gerrymandered than the original one and hope the new Court of Appeals will accept it.
They might be able to pick up three or four seats that way. But the
- North Carolina: North Carolina is the opposite of New York. The
previous state Supreme Court threw out a highly gerrymandered map the Republicans drew. Then the
Republicans took over the state Supreme Court in January and are
to reinstate the original gerrymandered map or something like it.
- Ohio: Ohio has a partisan commission to draw the maps. Its first five
productions were shot down by the state Supreme Court. They are now busy drawing a sixth one.
Meanwhile, a group called Citizens Not Politicians wants to put an initiative on the ballot
that would create a new commission consisting only of nonpoliticians to get the politicians out of
the loop. Ohio AG Dave Yost (R) doesn't like the whole thing and Thursday
the summary language for the second time because he doesn't like the definition of "political
affiliation" in the amendment. The group could try to change the language to make Yost happy, but it
is possible no language will satisfy him. He just wants to kill the initiative. Then it will go to
- Wisconsin: Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in
the country, both at the congressional level and the state level. And this despite the fact that
Wisconsin is the most evenly split state in the country. Joe Biden carried the state in 2020 by
0.63%. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) won reelection in 2022 by 1.0%. However, Republicans hold 67% of the
seats in the state Senate and 65% of the seats in the state Assembly. The Republicans had majorities
in the state Supreme Court for years and years until Janet Protasiewicz was elected to the Court in
a landslide this spring. She is nominally nonpartisan, but agrees with the Democrats on issues
ranging from abortion to gerrymandering. Now opponents of gerrymandering are working on bringing a
case before the court. Republicans in the state legislature are scared to death and are planning to
impeach her. Once impeached, she will be removed from the Court until her trial. But the Republicans
are not planning a trial, so she will be in permanent limbo—unless she resigns, in which case
Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) can reappoint her (or someone else). No Senate confirmation is required. But
the legislature could then impeach the new justice, and so on ad infinitum. There are a lot of
moving parts here.
Nevertheless, the Republicans are afraid if they impeach Protasiewicz and Evers appoints some law
professor who has no track record and they impeach him (or her) without knowing anything about the
new justice other than Evers did the appointing, the blowback in Nov. 2024 could be immense.
Consequently, they are working on a
just in case. Plan B consists of a bill that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) introduced last Tuesday
and was approved by the Assembly Thursday with no hearings or debate. The bill establishes a five-member
commission to draw the maps. Four of the members would be chosen by the majority and minority
leaders of each chamber. The four members would pick the fifth one, who would be chair. The
commission would draw up a map that would be subject to a straight up-or-down vote by the
legislature. But since the Republicans control the legislature, they would vote down any map they
didn't like. If the Republicans pass the bill, Evers could veto it. There are enough Republican votes
to override a veto in the state Senate but not in the Assembly. It's a complicated chess game here.
In addition to all these cases, cases are percolating in New Mexico, Tennessee, and Texas. The
2024 maps could look quite different from the 2022 maps. (V)
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