Battle in court over redistricting, cry of bias. Politics


The fight for control of the House of Representatives and state legislatures next year will not depend on who campaigns. It's more about who is doing the drawing.

Nearly four years after the 2020 census and the upcoming redistricting of state legislative and congressional districts, court battles over district boundaries are still ongoing. In the case of the House, the new and still-disputed lines impact 13 congressional districts – more than half of the 25 seats. Nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers next year a toss-up And Democrats would need to more than double the five seats to gain control of the chamber.

And while previous battles over gerrymandered districts have been largely confined to state legislators, the current battle has also been drawn into the courts, leading to accusations of partisan bias by members of the judicial branch.

In Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia, congressional and some state legislative lines are being redrawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits intentionally disenfranchising minority voters through gerrymandering. Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, Florida and South Carolina could also join that list.

In New York, Wisconsin and North Carolina, state courts have become major players in partisan redistricting battles. And since the verdicts in all three cases have changed as the makeup of the courts has changed, political players are claiming that jurists are tipping the scale in their ideological favor.

"It is the height of absurdity to suggest that the chaos this decision is creating is something the public wants," says former GOP Rep. John Faso of New York. The results are expected to result from a Democratic-drawn map of congressional districts.

New York's redistricting saga goes back to 2022, when a bipartisan redistricting commission — created by a state constitutional amendment — deadlocked, and the task was sent to the Democratic-controlled state legislature.

The Democrats drew a map in their favor, and the Republicans sued, leading to a new map being successfully drawn by a special master. That competitive map allowed the GOP to pick up four congressional seats in deep blue New York that year.

Democratic-backed groups sued again to return the process to the redistricting commission. This time, the Court of Appeal – with a new, more liberal Chief Justice – ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Any map created by the commission must be approved by the Democratic-run legislature, and if the commission is again deadlocked — as is widely expected — the legislature will have to draw its own map.

Analysts estimate that the new map could give Democrats six seats next year.

“It was fixed,” says Faso.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Republicans won a series of court battles that ended with a map for state legislative seats that critics said was gerrymandered too much, including those districts. There were those who were not contiguous. But the state Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, will not order new lines drawn.

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That changed when Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal, won election to the state supreme court by a landslide 11 percentage points. The day after Protasiewicz was sworn in, a liberal group sued again, and last Friday, the newly formed court ordered new lines drawn.

Currently, Republicans hold about two-thirds of the state legislative seats in the state, split evenly between the two parties (Wisconsin has one Democratic and Republican U.S. senator, and its governor, Tony Evers, is a Democrat). The new map will also impact the next round of redistricting of state legislative and congressional seats after the 2030 census.

"If you look at the population, look at race statewide, it's pretty evenly divided," says Jonathan Miller, chief program officer at the Public Rights Project. "Having a supermajority in one party in the legislature is indicative of an incredibly skewed map."

In North Carolina, a state Supreme Court controlled by Democratic jurists ruled in 2022 that the GOP-controlled state Legislature cannot draw state legislative and congressional lines with partisan gerrymandering.

Then, Republicans flipped seats on the high court, regaining the majority. That court reversed itself in April this year, allowing the partisan gerrymander to proceed. This is expected to give Republicans three more seats in the House, unless a new lawsuit (based on allegations of Voting Rights Act violations) is successful and forces another redrawing.

Voting Rights Act cases involving Alabama and Louisiana — where courts have ordered the creation of a new district to ensure black voting power — are likely to result in single-seat pickups for Democrats in each state.

In Georgia, Republican state lawmakers were ordered to draw a new district, but in doing so, eliminated another seat now held by Democratic Representative Lucy McBath. A federal judge on Thursday upheld that map, meaning Republicans will retain their advantage in the congressional delegation despite losing a Voting Rights Act challenge.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on a case from South Carolina, where Republican state lawmakers said their GOP-friendly district lines were motivated not by race but by politics. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is up to states to decide whether to ban partisan gerrymandering, but plaintiffs suing in South Carolina say the lines violate the Voting Rights Act.

A win there could give Democrats a chance to pick up a seat. In Florida, Democrats and Republicans are fighting in the courts over whether congressional district lines (which remained in place for the 2022 election and resulted in the defeat of a Democratic congressman) violate the state constitution's protections for minority voters. Are.

Some Southern states once required "pre-clearance" of their redistricting maps, getting advance court approval to ensure that the lines were not disenfranchising minority voters. But in 2013, the Supreme Court removed the pre-clearance requirement, meaning plaintiffs must wait until district lines are drawn and then challenge them.

"It's created the same kind of cat-and-mouse game where legislators claim they're complying, but really not," says Kareem Creighton, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice.

"It's disappointing for the plaintiffs, but it's also disappointing for the elections," says Creighton. “Every day that a map is not drawn is a day that voters face less representation than the law requires.”



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