The Redistrict Network

Log in


Sign In to Post!

  • 12 Feb 2019 4:46 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Anne Arundel delegate proposes 'easily understood' rules to eliminate congressional gerrymandering - Baltimore Sun - by Pamela Wood

    As the Democratic and Republican parties battle over how to draw congressional districts, one Maryland delegate thinks he has a simple solution to the problem.

    Del. Michael Malone is sponsoring a bill that would require congressional districts to be compact and respect geographic boundaries and local city and county boundaries. It’s the same legal standard required for the state’s districts for delegates and state senators.

    “It’s easily understood. It provides clear guidelines,” said Malone, an Anne Arundel County Republican who has long held an interest in redistricting.

    Maryland’s congressional districts are considered among the most gerrymandered in the nation, with one federal judge once infamously describing one of the districts as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

    In November, a federal court ordered that Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Western Maryland and much of Montgomery County, be redrawn.

    U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Maryland, North Carolina cases on congressional district boundaries

    Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, has appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, with oral arguments set for next month.

    As the court case plays out, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed a commission to suggest new boundaries for the district. He also is pushing legislation that would require congressional districts to be drawn in the future by a bipartisan commission.

    Malone said he supports the governor’s bill, but is putting forth his idea as a simpler alternative with bipartisan support.

    Malone counts 22 Democrats among his cosponsors and has cosponsors from Baltimore City and every county in the state. But he hasn’t been able to gain traction with legislative leaders, and the same bill failed last year.

    Malone said that gerrymandering is bad for democracy because those who are elected don’t end up reflecting the politics of the people they represent.

    Federal judges say Maryland's 6th congressional district is unconstitutional; map must be redrawn for 2020

    He believes that requiring congressional districts to be compact and taking into account geographic and county boundaries will go a long way to creating districts that make more sense, and are less likely to be drawn to favor one political party over another.

    Maryland’s members of the House of Representatives include just one Republican — Rep. Andy Harris — and seven Democrats.

    “It’s causing hyper-partisan politics,” he said. “It’s wrong for Democrats to do it in Maryland and it’s wrong for Republicans to do it elsewhere.”

    Malone’s bill isn’t scheduled yet for a hearing in the House of Delegates, but a companion bill from Sen. Ed Reilly, also an Anne Arundel Republican, is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 28.

  • 12 Feb 2019 4:44 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Liberals eye 2020 takeover of Wisconsin Supreme Court - AP News - by Scott Bauer

    MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin liberals hope to take a key step this spring toward breaking a long conservative stranglehold on the state’s Supreme Court, in an election that could also serve as a barometer of the political mood in a key presidential swing state.

    If the liberal-backed candidate wins the April 2 state Supreme Court race, liberals would be in prime position to take over the court when the next seat comes up in 2020 — during a presidential primary when Democrats expect to benefit from strong turnout.

    The bitterly partisan court, which conservatives have controlled since 2008, has upheld several polarizing Republican-backed laws, none more so than former GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

    If liberals can win in April and again in 2020, they would have the majority until at least 2025.

    “It is absolutely critical we win this race,” liberal attorney Tim Burns, who lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2018, said of the April election. “It does set us up for next year to get a court that’s likely to look very differently on issues of the day like voters’ rights and gerrymandering.”

    The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.

    A group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that fights gerrymandered maps spent money supporting the winning liberal candidate in last year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race. It was expected to do so again this spring ahead of the next round of redistricting.

    Given that Wisconsin now has a Democratic governor and Republican-dominated Legislature, the courts will increasingly serve as the battleground where disputes will be resolved, said Douglas Keith, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending in judicial races.

    Keith said he expects millions to be spent on the April race by outside groups even though majority control won’t shift by its result alone.

    This year’s race, which is officially nonpartisan, pits liberal-backed chief state Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer against fellow Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn, the choice of conservatives.

    “This is likely going to be the race that determines the philosophy that will govern the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 20 years,” Hagedorn said in an interview. “People understand what’s at stake in this race.”

    Liberals are confident the electorate is on their side. Liberal-backed Rebecca Dallet won a spot on the high court last year in a race where she ran a television ad critical of President Donald Trump. Democrats captured every statewide race in 2018 and recent polls show voters siding with Democrats on a host of issues raised during that election.

    Trump became the first Republican to carry Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Democrats are determined to put the state back in their column in 2020. The result of April’s court race will be read as the latest indicator of their prospects.

    “They are holding a good hand,” said Republican strategist and longtime court watcher Brian Nemoir. “But we are in a period of political swings right now. What’s true yesterday may not be true tomorrow.”

    Democrats are even more confident about 2020, when conservative Justice Dan Kelly will be up for re-election. That race takes place during a presidential primary that should have heavy turnout by Democrats — but not by Republicans, with Trump at this stage unlikely to face a serious primary challenge.

    Legislative Republicans were so concerned about losing the Kelly seat that they actually considered moving the primary date to improve his chances, but they ultimately dropped the idea amid widespread criticism.

    Both Hagedorn and Neubauer pitch themselves as impartial, despite having partisan ties.

    “I am not running for the Supreme Court to promote any policy agenda whatsoever, whether Governor Walker’s or Governor Evers’,” Hagedorn said. “My job doesn’t change one bit depending on who the governor is or who controls the Legislature.”

    Hagedorn, 41, served as a law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, whose victory in 2008 gave conservatives control of the court. Hagedorn served as an assistant attorney general, worked in private practice and was Walker’s chief legal counsel for nearly five years. Walker appointed him to the state appeals court in 2015 and Hagedorn won election two years later.

    Hagedorn’s law school blog from 2005 and 2006 has become a flashpoint in the race. He wrote about his evangelical Christian beliefs, calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization” and denouncing court rulings favoring gay rights by likening homosexuality to bestiality.

    Hagedorn hasn’t apologized for what he wrote and said his personal views don’t affect his judicial rulings. Neubauer said she was surprised by the posts, but she declined to comment beyond that.

    Neubauer, 61, was appointed to the appeals court in 2007 by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. She previously donated $8,100 to Doyle.

    Neubauer was elected to the appeals court in 2008, re-elected in 2014 and has been chief judge since 2015. She spent almost 20 years as an attorney in private practice.

    Both candidates cite bipartisan endorsements as proof that they would be impartial.

    Neubauer’s campaign is full of Democratic operatives, including Scott Spector, who managed Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s re-election victory last year. Hagedorn’s campaign is run by Stephan Thompson, a former Walker campaign manager.

    Neubauer’s husband, Jeff, was a former Democratic legislator and past chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party while her daughter, Greta Neubauer, is currently a state representative from Racine.

    “I have chosen a very different path than my family,” Neubauer said. “I would ask to be judged on the path that I’ve chosen and my path is as a judge.”

    The winner will serve a 10-year term.

  • 9 Feb 2019 3:46 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    California Voting Rights Act survives legal challenge, but it’s not over - San Francisco Chronicle - by Bob Egelko

    A federal judge has rejected a challenge to the California Voting Rights Act, which has required numerous local governments to switch from at-large to district elections to empower their minority populations. But the conservative who won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a key section of the federal voting-rights law says the California case is headed for higher courts.

    “We are disappointed with the ruling. We have every intention of seeking an appeal (in) the Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals), and beyond if necessary,” Edward Blum, president of the nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, said Tuesday.

    The California law, passed in 2002, requires local governments and districts that hold at-large elections, drawing all candidates from the entire area, to change to district elections if a local minority group can show that voting in the community favors the majority because of racial polarization. That requires proof that a majority racial group has historically voted as a bloc to elect its own candidates or to pass race-related ballot measures opposed by minorities.

    “It’s having a big impact in California,” said Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor and election-law expert. He said many school districts, in particular, have had to adopt district election plans in recent years after being threatened with lawsuits. San Francisco switched to district elections under a local ballot measure that took effect in 2000.

    Defenders of at-large elections say they encourage candidates to consider the diverse views of an entire community. Opponents say those elections allow a majority, whether racial or political, to ignore minority concerns.

    California courts upheld the law in 2006, rejecting arguments that it was racially discriminatory, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied review. But Hasen said the high court might take a different view now in light of its 2015 ruling on the federal Voting Rights Act.

    In a suit sponsored by Blum’s organization, the court overturned a provision of the federal law requiring state and local governments with a history of racial bias to seek Justice Department approval before changing their district boundaries or voting rules. The 5-4 ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts said the pervasive discrimination that might have justified the law in the past no longer existed.

    Blum’s group challenged the California law in 2017 on behalf of Don Higginson, former mayor of the San Diego County community of Poway, which had just shifted to district elections to avoid another threatened lawsuit. Higginson’s suit argued that the new districts, drawn to protect minorities who had been harmed by racially polarized voting, amounted to gerrymandering that discriminated against him and other whites.

    But U.S. District Judge William Hayes of San Diego said Monday that Higginson had presented no evidence of potential “racial gerrymandering.” He said courts have allowed election officials to consider race for certain purposes, such as creating “majority-minority” districts in areas that have lacked minority representation, as long as they do not simply “separate voters into different districts on the basis of race,” in the words of a 1993 Supreme Court ruling.

    Even if the California law was passed to “maximize minority voting strength,” Hayes said, the suit failed to plausibly claim that either state lawmakers or the Poway district-designers “classified Higginson into a district because of his membership in a particular racial group” or treated voters differently based on their race.

    Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed arguments in support of the state law, said the ruling “appropriately distinguished California’s attempt to remedy and prevent racial discrimination in voting from discrimination itself.”

  • 9 Feb 2019 3:44 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    US Judge Hears Arguments in Mississippi Redistricting Case - Jackson Free Press - by the Associated Press

    JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge heard arguments Wednesday about whether African-American voters in part of Mississippi have a chance to elect a candidate of their choice in a state Senate district with a slim black majority.

    Three black plaintiffs sued the state in July, asking U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to order that Senate District 22 be redrawn to increase its black majority.

    One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Rob McDuff, said the district has a history of racially polarized voting that creates hurdles for any black candidate to win in the district.

    "They are always losing, no matter how good the quality of the candidate," McDuff said Wednesday.

    Mike Wallace is an attorney representing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who are two of the three state election commissioners named as defendants. Wallace said that although Mississippi had barriers in the past to black voter registration and participation, plaintiffs failed to show that African-Americans face hurdles now in District 22.

    "There isn't anything impeding them from exercising the right to vote," Wallace said.

    African-Americans make up about 38 percent of Mississippi's population and hold 25 percent of the seats in the state Senate. That is 13 of the 52 seats, the highest number ever in a state where the white power structure for decades used poll taxes, literacy tests and violence to suppress black people's voting rights. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated some of those barriers, and African-Americans challenged legislative districts that diluted the power of black voters.

    District 22 is more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) long, stretching through parts of six counties from the Delta down into the Jackson suburbs of Madison County. It has a 51 percent black voting-age population and a white senator, Republican Buck Clarke of Hollandale.

    Clarke was elected in 2003, 2007 and 2011 in an earlier configuration of the district and in 2015 in the district as it currently exists. He is in his second term as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Clarke is running for state treasurer this year, which means there is an open race for the Senate seat.

    One of the people who filed the lawsuit is former state Sen. Joseph Thomas, a Democrat from Yazoo City. Thomas served in a different Senate district from 2000 to 2004. When the 52 state Senate districts were redrawn in 2012 to account for population changes shown in the 2010 Census, Thomas' home was drawn into the Senate district represented by Clarke. Thomas lost to Clarke in the 2015 election.

    Plaintiffs want the district redrawn before this year's election. Reconfiguring District 22 could affect one other district nearby.

    March 1 is candidates' qualifying deadline for statewide, regional, legislative and county offices in Mississippi. The lawsuit asks the federal judge to delay that deadline for District 22 and neighboring District 23, which is in parts of three counties and has been represented by another white Republican, Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg, who was first elected in 2007 and is running again.

    William Cooper of Bristol Virginia, a redistricting expert for the plaintiffs, testified Wednesday that it's possible to increase the black voting age population in District 22 by swapping a few precincts between it and District 23.

    Under one proposed plan drawn by Cooper, the Madison County precincts and some Yazoo County precincts would move from 22 to 23, and some Warren County precincts and all of sparsely populated Issaquena County would move from 23 to 22. Madison County precincts that are in other state Senate districts would not be affected.

  • 8 Feb 2019 4:22 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    NC and Texas might face more redistricting lawsuits than the other 48 states combined - The Herald Sun - by Paul A. Specht

    North Carolina isn’t exactly known for having fair election maps.

    In the last few years, state legislators have been sued multiple times, accused of drawing unlawful maps. And, in some cases, judges have ordered redraws.

    State Rep. David Lewis, who led map-drawing efforts as senior chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, once said, “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

    So Lewis made news during an event sponsored by The News & Observer’s opinion section on Jan. 30, when he said he’s willing to consider new ways for drawing the maps. North Carolina has been in court so much over election redistricting that it stands out from the rest of the country, Lewis said.

    “North Carolina and Texas have more (redistricting) litigation than the other 48 states, combined,” Lewis said.

    His staff later said Lewis was joking.

    “We are pretty sure that Rep. Lewis said that as a joke during that forum, but it is broadly reflective of the litigation picture,” Mark Coggins, a policy advisor for Lewis, told PolitiFact in an email.

    Turns out, he’s not necessarily wrong.


    It’s difficult to track redistricting lawsuits, experts told PolitiFact. Legal challenges are usually filed in separate courts, and there’s no widely accepted standard for defining which cases are credible.

    The National Conference of State Legislatures has an interactive map that keeps track of which states have faced legal challenges to their election maps in recent years. But the NCSL doesn’t have a list of active cases, according to Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting.

    For a comprehensive list of cases, the NCSL recommends the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School and the “All about redistricting” website operated by Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor. (Other experts, including Eric McGhee, a frequently cited redistricting researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, as well as the experts at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, also directed PolitiFact to Levitt’s work.)

    Levitt and the Brennan Center each keep lists of active redistricting cases across the country. They are similar, but not identical.


    Screen grab from

    A LIST

    North Carolina faces four redistricting lawsuits, according to Levitt and the Brennan Center. They are: Rucho vs. Common Cause (over partisan gerrymandering), Rucho vs. League of Women Voters of North Carolina (partisan gerrymandering), Common Cause vs. Lewis (partisan gerrymandering) and North Carolina State Conference of NAACP Branches vs. Lewis (over racial gerrymandering).

    Here’s the list of active cases across the rest of the country, according to Levitt:

    Alabama: Chestnut vs. Merrill

    Connecticut: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People vs. Merrill

    Georgia: Dwight vs. Crittenden

    Louisiana: Johnson vs. Ardoin

    Maryland: Benisek vs. Lamone

    Michigan: League of Women Voters of Michigan vs. Benson

    Mississippi: Thomas vs. Bryant

    Ohio: Ohio A. Philip Randolph Inst. vs. Smith

    Texas: Abbott vs. Perez

    Virginia: Bethune-Hill vs. Virginia State Board of Elections

    Wisconsin: Gill vs. Whitford

    (As PolitiFact reported this story, the Brennan Center’s list included more cases than Levitt’s. But Levitt pointed out that the center included some cases that had closed. The Brennan Center reviewed its list and agreed.)

    According to Levitt’s list, North Carolina and Texas are facing a combined five lawsuits, while there are 10 across the rest of the country. However, Levitt said, the Texas case includes five other challenges that were originally filed separately: MALC vs. Texas, Morris vs. Texas, Quesada vs. Perry, Rodriguez vs. Perry, and Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force vs. Perry.


    “They’re technically separate suits, but they’ve all been combined. So I don’t know whether you want to count this as one or six,” Levitt told PolitiFact in an email.

    Texas has six cases if we count those individual challenges, giving the Lone Star State and North Carolina a combined 11 cases — which would be more than the rest of the country.

    So should they be counted separately?

    “The only issue remaining in all of (the Texas cases) right now is whether Texas should be put back under federal supervision going forward, not about challenges to the existing lines,” Levitt said in his email. “That’s a (very) big deal, but I don’t know whether you’d consider it an active case about redistricting or not.”

    What would Levitt do? “I’d probably lean in favor of counting it, since the reason it exists is because of redistricting,” he said.


    Lewis said North Carolina and Texas have more redistricting litigation than the other 48 states, combined.

    PolitiFact began looking into this claim thinking it would be simple to count the redistricting lawsuits and then rate the claim on the Truth-O-Meter.

    But occasionally, the truth isn’t so clear. Depending on how we count the Texas cases, Lewis could be completely right — or he could be completely wrong.

    Experts certainly agree on Lewis’ overall point: North Carolina is dealing with far more redistricting lawsuits than most states.

  • 8 Feb 2019 4:18 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Experts Predict New SCOTUS Majority Will Take On Extreme Gerrymandering - Talking Points Memo - by Allegra Kirkland

    The Supreme Court is slated to hear two blockbuster cases involving extreme partisan gerrymandering this spring—the last best chance for the nation’s highest court to take action on this pivotal issue before the 2020 census and once-a-decade redistricting process the following year.

    With swing vote Anthony Kennedy retired from the bench and Justice Brett Kavanaugh cementing the court’s 5-4 conservative majority, there’s a legitimate fear that their ruling may not institute a fairer system.

    After all, the Supreme Court has ruled that racial gerrymandering can violate the Constitution, but never before struck down a voting map as unconstitutionally gerrymandered on partisan lines. Last year, the Supreme Court kicked two related cases back to the lower courts.

    But legal redistricting experts surveyed by TPM see cause for hope. The pending cases — Lamone v. Benisek out of Maryland and Rucho v. Common Cause out of North Carolina — involve such egregious, intentional partisan power grabs, committed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, respectively, that the constitutional questions at hand are clear-cut. Experts also predict that the justices will want to impose some limits to stem the flow of cases to their docket involving this highly sensitive political issue.

    “The extreme fact patterns in these cases simplify the legal issues significantly,” Thomas Wolf, an attorney with the Brennan Center specializing in redistricting, told TPM.

    Both cases involve “bald, flagrant seat maximization, and that’s unconstitutional many times over,” Wolf said. “In both cases you have key movers making crystal-clear what their intent was in their own words.”

    Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director for Common Cause, said that the facts in his organization’s case against North Carolina “are about as egregious as the court will ever see.”

    “If that doesn’t offend the Constitution, I don’t know what does,” Vicuña told TPM. “So we feel good about where things stand. I think we’ll put together a strong amicus campaign that will have a lot of bipartisan academics, current and former elected officials, folks who can make a strong case that this is clearly a constitutional problem—to allow elected officials to manipulate districts.”

    In the North Carolina case, a three-judge panel of a federal district court found that GOP lawmakers intentionally drew districts to protect their members and hurt Democratic opponents. Under this map, Republicans managed to hold on to 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats in the 2018 midterms, even though Democrats won over 50 percent of the vote.

    This was no accident, by the GOP’s own admission. As Rep. David Lewis (R) put it: “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

    The Maryland case, which the Supreme Court declined to decide last June on procedural grounds, involves an overzealous Democratic gerrymander. Republican voters alleged that Democratic state lawmakers intentionally and successfully drew a map in 2011 that would oust a longtime Republican incumbent, giving Democrats a 7-1 advantage in congressional seats. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged that he hoped to create “a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat.”

    In both cases, there are stark statements of intent by the architects of the plan. The plaintiffs also have strong standing to bring them. Common Cause’s Vicuña said they intentionally built their case to avoid standing issues after the Supreme Court ruled last year that Wisconsin Democratic voters failed to prove that a GOP-orchestrated redistricting plan caused them personal harm.

    “That was something we anticipated, and that was the reason why we brought on the state Democratic Party as well as individual plaintiffs from every district,” he said.

    Lawyers representing plaintiffs in both cases acknowledge that the departure of Kennedy makes their job more difficult. Kavanaugh’s vote is uncertain, as his tenure on the D.C. Circuit Court did not involve any gerrymandering cases.

    “It’s a bit more of a cloudy crystal ball right now,” Michael Kimberly, an attorney at Mayer Brown who represents the plaintiffs in the Maryland case, told TPM.

    But Kimberly said he feels “cautious optimism” about his prospects. For one thing, the court slightly accelerated the scheduling of the Maryland case so that oral arguments in both cases would be held on the same day in March.

    “I do think it’s a good thing to have a broader array of legal theories before the court,” Kimberly said. “The more options that we put in front of the justices, and the more opportunity that they have to compare and contrast them, the more likely it is that they’ll land on a good answer.”

    Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing other plaintiffs in the North Carolina case, agreed that the scheduling maneuvering was an “optimistic sign.”

    Moving up the schedule allows the justices additional time to write their opinions, Smith said, suggesting, to him, “that there is at least some interest in doing something substantive here rather than just batting their hand at us.”

    Legal experts noted there are some self-interested reasons for the Supreme Court to institute rules to stop the most extreme examples of gerrymandering. All these pending redistricting cases are burdening their caseload, and Chief Justice John Roberts is keen to maintain the court’s perceived independence in this hyper-partisan political moment.

    “We have the Chief Justice in a very different posture in the Kavanaugh world, where he’s looking for ways to make the court look less partisan and trying to show that the court is a court of law, not a court of politics,” the Campaign Legal Center’s Smith said.

    Jeff Wice, a redistricting expert at the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government, agreed that Roberts doesn’t want to “see the Supreme Court as a parking lot for every political case that parties want to bring” and is keen to “balance the court’s caseload.”

    As Wice pointed out, there are still more than a dozen states fighting in court over plans enacted after the last round of redistricting in 2011—an “unprecedented” figure.

    If the court doesn’t take some action before the 2020 census sets the terms for the next map-drawing cycle in 2021, “There could be no end to this.”

    The Supreme Court has never delineated clear standards for what constitutes an impermissibly partisan gerrymander, but intent is key. They have defined the practice as “the drawing of legislative district lines to subordinate adherents of one political party and entrench a rival party in power”—a standard that presumably applies to congressional maps as well.

    Some legal scholars have argued that the Supreme Court can rely on scientific standards developed to determine examples of gerrymandering—comparing the share of the popular vote to the share of congressional seats, for example. Using these scientific measures to account for partisan asymmetry in how districts are drawn would allow the court to try to satisfy individual voters’ right to equal treatmentunder the 14th Amendment.

    Even a formula that only applies to the most extreme examples of partisan gerrymandering would represent a huge step forward for a court that has taken no action on this issue, the Brennan Center’s Wolf said.

    “The court doesn’t need to step in and solve everything that’s wrong with our redistricting processes,” Wolf said. “If it comes in and knocks out the limit cases, we will have made substantial advances.”

    Despite the causes for optimism, there is no guarantee that the court will do so. A ruling that the Constitution imposes no limits on the practice is possible, and worth losing sleep over, as some experts and good-government groups are cautioning. Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California Irvine who runs the Election Law Blog, laid out the nightmare scenario in an Atlantic piece this week, anticipating that the court will reverse lower courts rulings finding the Maryland and North Carolina cases unconstitutional.

    If that happens, experts predict, legislatures will have free rein to engage in extreme partisan gerrymandering come 2021.

    Just look at North Carolina, where the GOP’s gerrymander-protected supermajority control of the legislature empowered them to pass jurisdiction-stripping statutes and attempt to reduce the governor’s authority. Or Pennsylvania, where Republican lawmakers threatened to impeach state Supreme Court justices who stepped in to declare their congressional map an unconstitutional gerrymander.

    “We’re not just talking about threats to voter rights,” Wolf said. “We’re talking about threats to the structure of our democracy.”

  • 7 Feb 2019 10:11 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Redistricting guru: Michigan’s maps are legal, even if process was political - Bridge - by Joel Kurth

    DETROIT – Michigan’s controversial political districts were drawn in secret by Republicans and written in part to help incumbents – and there’s nothing wrong with that, one of their chief architects testified Thursday.

    The final witness in a three-day federal trial to determine if Michigan’s political districts are constitutional, GOP consultant Jeff Timmer said he drew the maps in 2011 to meet exacting legal standards.

    Did politics come into play? Of course, Timmer said.

    “The legislative process is inherently political,” said Timmer, a managing director for the Sterling Corp., a Lansing firm that works with Republicans.

    “It’s not uncommon at all for lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – to meet alone to discuss legislation, including redistricting.”

    The lawsuit, brought by the League of Women Voters of Michigan and Democrats including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, could decide whether dozens of Michigan legislative and congressional districts are redrawn for the 2020 election. (An independent citizens commission will take over the duties of drawing state and congressional political maps in Michigan after 2020.)

    Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue at least 34 Michigan districts illegally dilute voters’ rights by “packing” Democrats into districts they can’t lose, while spreading out or “cracking” remaining Democrats into safe GOP seats, helping to ensure Republican majorities in Lansing.

    Republicans say the maps abide by Michigan law and claims of illegal gerrymandering were put to rest in November, when Democrats swept the state and picked up two congressional seats despite the contested maps.

    Hundreds of damaging emails have been unearthed in the litigation involving Republican operatives, including Timmer, that indicate districts were designed to help maintain GOP majorities.

    Timmer, the GOP’s only witness, downplayed those emails on Thursday, saying he was besieged with requests to tweak legislative districts.

    “I received a lot of unsolicited comments and input from people on how districts should look,” Timmer said. “People who were peripherally involved seemed to provide that input most often.”

    In one email to Timmer, Jack Daly, then-chief of staff to now-former GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, sought changes to southeast Michigan districts to weaken Democratic influence.

    “In a glorious way that makes it easier to cram ALL of the Dem garbage in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties into only four districts. Is there anyone on our side who doesn’t recognize that dynamic?” Daly wrote to Timmer in May 2011.

    Daly wrote emails practically daily, Timmer acknowledged in his testimony.

    “He was a very eager participant in the process and had a lot of ideas, but he was largely ignored by everyone in the process,” Timmer said.

    Likewise, Timmer acknowledged he incorporated voter history into proposed congressional districts, flew to Washington D.C. to receive district “wish lists” from Michigan’s Republican congressional delegation (but not Democrats) and was hired by a now-former Michigan Chamber of Commerce executive, Robert LaBrant, who bragged the maps would help the GOP maintain a 9-5 edge in Congress for years.

    Even so, Timmer insisted the process was bipartisan.

    He testified that a handful of Democrats –  including Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor – voted for the plan after working with Republicans to improve their own districts.

    Timmer said he followed Michigan’s Apol standards, laws that have guided redistricting since the 1980s and require districts to be of similar size, keep counties intact and minimize breaks along municipal borders.

    “Partisan considerations,” such as preserving incumbency, were taken into consideration but didn’t take precedence, Timmer said.

    Timmer said his goal was to create maps that would pass the Legislature. During redistricting processes after the 1980 and 1990 Censuses, political disagreements and lawsuits forced judges to approve the districts.

    “The Legislature had a responsibility to come to an agreement on district lines without involving the courts,” Timmer said. “The desire … was to adhere to [legal] standards and get enough votes to ensure the [maps] pass.”

    Ultimately, there was little need to worry. In Michigan, the political party in power in Lansing controlled state and congressional mapmaking following each decennial census.

    In 2011, Republicans had wide majorities in both chambers, the executive office (Rick Snyder) and majority in the Supreme Court.

    The redistricting plan passed 29-8 in the state Senate and 65-42 in the House, with support from fewer than 10 Democrats.

    The process will change starting in the 2022 election, after Michigan voters in November approved a measure that creates the independent citizens commission to draw legislative maps.

    That means any new districts ordered by federal judges in the current suit would last only for the 2020 election.

    A three-judge panel presiding over the case likely will rule after Feb. 22, the deadline for final written arguments.

    Two judges in the case were appointed by President Bill Clinton: Denise Page-Hood and Eric Clay, while the third, Gordon Quist, was appointed by President George H. W. Bush.

    The League of Women Voters brought nine witnesses as plaintiffs, most of whom are Democratic voters who testified they live in districts are that so skewed they feel their vote is wasted and don’t receive fair representation.

    The trial was limited because most of the case relies on evidence that has already been submitted to the court and is familiar to judges. As a result, unlike a typical trial, the trial did not include closing arguments Thursday.

  • 6 Feb 2019 7:20 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Harris proposes adding seventh member to redistricting panel - Post Register - by Nathan Brown

    BOISE — A House panel voted along party lines Wednesday to introduce a proposal to add a seventh member to the commission that draws legislative district lines.

    That seventh member would be chosen by a majority vote of the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, controller and superintendent of public instruction. Given the state's political divides that would have the effect of adding a Republican to a commission that is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

    Idaho voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1994 creating a six-member Commission for Reapportionment, with two each appointed by majority and minority legislative leaders and two by the chairmen of the state's two largest political parties. It replaced a frequently contentious process that poisoned relationships between lawmakers and led to maps that were often challenged and overturned in court.

    The state has redistricted twice under this system. The commission formed after the 2000 census came up with two maps that were struck down in court before a third was approved. The commission formed after the 2010 census deadlocked, leading to the formation of a new commission, a map being struck down in court and some additional legal wrangling before a final product was approved.

    "We want to keep this out of the courts," Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, who is proposing the constitutional amendment, told the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday. "We want to avoid this perpetual deadlock. There are obviously some partisan ways of doing this. I want to avoid that if we can."

    Harris said he left out the attorney general and secretary of state since they could be involved in other legal aspects of redistricting. He said drawing legislative district lines is an inherently political process but that this seemed like the fairest way to do it.

    “The executive branch has more volatility, if you will, than the House or Senate,” Harris said, referring to the fact that Idaho has elected Democratic statewide officials more recently than a Democratic-majority Legislature.

    "Those are voted on by the people of the state of Idaho," said Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa. "At one point in state history we did have a Democrat governor, we did have a Democrat treasurer, we did have a Democrat superintendent, and that could ... sway that balance of power."

    The amendment would have to be approved by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and then by a majority of voters to take effect. Wednesday's vote to introduce it means a full hearing can be held later.

    Idaho will draw new lines again after the 2020 census, and some Republicans have been looking at ways to increase their sway over the process. The idea of adding a seventh member to the commission was discussed by delegates at the GOP's convention in Pocatello last June, the Associated Press reported at the time. All three Democrats on the committee voted against Harris' proposal.

    “You indicate it’s a political process,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. “Wouldn’t it be better for the people of Idaho if it was a non-political process and some kind of independent look at the problem of reapportionment? Which is really what 64 percent of the voters did when they approved the (1994) constitutional amendment we’re looking at today.”

  • 31 Jan 2019 3:52 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Texas Discriminated Against Minority Voters Repeatedly. DOJ Doesn’t Care If It Continues - HuffPost - by Sam Levine

    The Justice Department reversed its position in a closely watched voting rights case on Tuesday, telling a panel of federal judges Texas shouldn’t have to clear its voting changes with the federal government despite its history of intentionally discriminating against voters.

    The filing came in a Texas gerrymandering lawsuit, Abbott v. Perez, and has big implications for the remaining power of the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law to prevent discrimination against minorities. Several former Justice Department lawyers, some of whom worked on the case, said the reversal was alarming because the pattern of discrimination in Texas was so clear and the state is likely to do the same thing again without federal supervision.

    The plaintiffs in the suit, and the Justice Department until Tuesday, said Texas’ pattern of discriminating against minority voters, both recently and historically, meant it should have to have any changes to its voting laws pre-cleared, or pre-approved, by the federal government.

    “Generations of DOJ lawyers, including myself, have taken turns combating Texas’ many racially discriminatory voting policies. If Texas can’t meet this DOJ’s standards for warranting pre-clearance, I suspect no jurisdiction can,” said Sasha Samberg-Champion, a former senior attorney in the appellate section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

    The Justice Department, currently overseen by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker (above), reversed its positi

    The Justice Department, currently overseen by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker (above), reversed its position in a closely watched redistricting case on Tuesday. It now says Texas doesn’t need to be put back under federal supervision, even though the state repeatedly discriminated against minority voters.

    Requiring states to clear voting changes is considered the heart and the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act because it prevents discriminatory voting policies before they go into effect. For decades, it blocked places with a history of discrimination from enacting restrictive policies that would suppress voters.

    But in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the law the federal government used to require certain jurisdictions, including Texas, to clear their voting changes with the federal government. The decision allowed states to enact voting restrictions and leaving voting rights groups able to challenge them only after the fact.

    The plaintiffs in the Texas redistricting suit are seeking to use a different provision in the law that says jurisdictions can be put under pre-clearance if they have a history of intentional discrimination. Only one jurisdiction, the city of Pasadena, Texas, has been put back under federal supervision using that provision following the 2013 decision. Placing the entire state of Texas under supervision would be a hugely significant win for voting rights groups.

    The Texas suit involves a challenge to legislative and congressional districts that were originally drawn by Texas lawmakers in 2011. That same year, a panel of judges threw out those maps, saying lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters. Texas adopted a court-approved temporary fix for the 2012 elections and then made those the state’s permanent maps. A federal district court in Texas found that the 2013 plan was also discriminatory, but the Supreme Court last year ruled the plan was OK.

    In its Tuesday filing, Justice Department lawyers said Texas shouldn’t be subject to pre-clearance because it had adopted new maps, therefore fixing the discrimination.

    “Texas’s most recent redistricting was the enactment of the 2013 plans, which essentially mirrored this Court’s 2012 interim plans and, as the Supreme Court held, did not involve any vote dilution, intentional or otherwise,” lawyers wrote in the Tuesday filing. 

    Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s civil rights division who worked on the Texas case, said the Tuesday filing was “trash.”

    He said Texas repeatedly, blatantly and intentionally discriminated against minority voters and refused to stop even when warned by the Supreme Court. That kind of discrimination, Levitt said, was precisely the kind of thing Congress wanted to prevent when it included pre-clearance provisions in the Voting Rights Act. Texas is likely to discriminate again during the next round of redistricting in 2021 and has little incentive not to unless it is under the supervision of the federal government. Texas, Levitt said, has shown an “addiction to racism” that it isn’t going to fix on its own.

    Redistricting isn’t the only area where Texas discriminated against minorities. A federal judge found that the state’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was intentionally discriminatory (an appeals court upheld a revised version of that law, even though a federal judge said the revision didn’t get rid of the discrimination). And the state now faces new allegations of voter intimidation after Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) tweeted misleading information and claimed there was voter fraud in the state. 

    “If we were talking about normal criminal law, we’d call Texas a recidivist. They have had more than three strikes,” Levitt said. “Texas didn’t fix this on their own, anything but. They were dragged into court kicking and screaming and told to fix it and they did the minimum necessary to make sure they could escape the court fixing it the next time.”

    “If we were talking about normal criminal law, we’d call Texas a recidivist.Justin Levitt, former DOJ official

    Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said Texans are protected against discrimination during the next round of redistricting.

    “The State of Texas must comply with the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and other voting-related protections. The Department of Justice remains committed to enforcing these protections,” she said in a statement. “However, there is currently no reason to subject Texas to federal court oversight, a process that the Supreme Court has described as ‘extraordinary’ and limited to only ‘exceptional’ cases. Furthermore, decisions by both the Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit prohibit such oversight.”

    Bryan Sells, a former Justice Department career attorney who worked on the Texas redistricting case, said it was unsurprising but “disheartening” and “sad” to see the DOJ’s reversal in the case. Both Sells and Levitt noted the Tuesday filing was not signed by career attorneys in the Justice Department, an unusual move and a strong signal the career attorneys disapproved of the position. The brief was signed by John Gore, one of the top political appointees in the civil rights division.

    “That’s a clear signal the position was dictated by the political appointees and that this is a political decision,” Sells said in an interview. “Voting ― it used to be under Republican and Democratic presidents sort of off-limits to that kind of political interference and it makes me sad every time I see it.”

    It is not common for the Justice Department to switch sides in a case. However, under President Donald Trump, the Justice Department has switched sides in multiple high-profile cases involving voting rights. In 2017, it reversed its position in a case and the long-standing position of a federal statute to defend Ohio’s practice of aggressively removing voters from its rolls. It also reversed its position in a suit challenging Texas’ voter ID law ― which was also found to be intentionally discriminatory ― defending the law after initially supporting the challenge. Civil rights groups have accused Trump and the Justice Department of abandoning enforcement of voting rights laws.

    “This is a really appalling brief for the civil rights division to file, and it’s unsurprising that career voting rights attorneys declined to sign it,” Samberg-Champion said.

    “I am also disturbed by this brief’s description of pre-clearance itself, as an unwarranted burden on any jurisdiction rather than a necessity to combat pervasive discrimination,” he added. “This is a really demeaning way for the civil rights division to characterize the work that so many of its lawyers did for years, until [Shelby County v. Holder]. It is a very sad thing for this division alum to see.”

  • 31 Jan 2019 3:05 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Voters, not politicians, must defeat gerrymandering - The Hill - by Katie Fahey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kent Thiry, Opinion Contributors 

    A tectonic shift is underway in America’s political landscape. Disgusted by decades of dysfunction in Washington, voters – led by younger generations – are abandoning the parties and moving from political disaffection to political action.

    Midterm elections often hand a defeat to the president’s party, but something deeper was felt in 2018 beyond the predictable swing of the political pendulum. In many states people from the left, right and center defied the labels of political tribalism and joined together to defeat one of the greatest ills of our democracy: gerrymandering.

    It is an obvious conflict of interest to allow politicians to draw the lines of their own election districts. In 1984 President Reagan called political gerrymandering “antidemocratic”, “un-American” and “a national disgrace,” but 34 years later courts and legislatures have largely failed to provide a remedy.

    So in 2018, people in Utah, Missouri, Michigan and Colorado went to the ballot box to prohibit gerrymandering in their states with the power of their vote. Using direct democracy, the four states each empowered independent redistricting commissions or nonpartisan demographers to take the power of drawing voting districts away from the politicians, political parties, and special interests and gave it back to the people, where it belongs. 

    Never before have so many states simultaneously enacted cures to gerrymandering – and with the decennial census still two years away, the number will grow. States as politically and geographically distinct as Maryland, Texas, Virginia and Oregon are now calling for independent redistricting commissions, and an end to gerrymandering, in their states. The people want change. 

    Arizona and California led the way by terminating gerrymandering once and for all through the creation of independent legislative and congressional redistricting commissions. The results were staggering.  In California, for example, 265 congressional elections were held between 2002 and 2010, before the reforms were implemented. In that time only one district changed party hands.

    In 2012, the first year elections were held under California’s independently drawn maps, 14 of 53 congressional representatives lost or chose not to run – a turnover rate of 26 percent. Not surprisingly, California voters found they could hold politicians more accountable where districts have been fairly drawn.

    Also shared by Utah, Missouri, Michigan and Colorado, California and Arizona are open primary elections which welcome participation from all voters regardless of party affiliation. The one-two punch of fair districts drawn by independent redistricting commissions, plus open primaries, makes elections fairer and more competitive. Together they serve as a barrier to extreme candidates at the fringes of their parties from advancing through closed primaries and getting elected in a district safely held by their party – despite their lack of support among the majority of voters.

    Perhaps as important as these reforms are is who is making them happen, and what that means for the two major parties. Michigan’s winning campaign to establish an independent redistricting commission was a non-partisan effort led by regular citizens without any political campaign experience. They won 61 percent of the vote and almost every county (67 of 83), whether “red” or “blue,” in the state. 

    The changes to Colorado’s constitution prohibiting gerrymandering were carried to victory by a wave of independent voters. These independents, who declined to join any party, cast more ballots than either Republican or Democratic voters for the first time in state’s history in 2018. And the wave is growing. Of Colorado voters under the age of 25, 51 percent are independents.

    Colorado is not alone. According to a recent Gallup survey, independents have grown from 35 percent of the nation’s electorate in 1990 to 42 percent in 2018. Neither the Republicans nor Democrats muster greater than 29 percent in the same survey. 

    A growing majority of Americans recognize that the casualty in our intensifying partisan battle is our democracy. Polls consistently point to fixing our government’s dysfunction as a top priority of voters. People are calling upon politicians to lay down their arms and find solutions to the major problems facing our nation.

    To this new political majority, “principled compromise” is not a derogatory phrase, it is a mandate to govern. The parties need to adapt to remain relevant. If they do not, the flight will continue. Fortunately, fair districts and open primaries empower the majority over the loud minority allowing elected officials to govern without fear of being dealt losses by those at the extreme edges of their party.

    The first three words of our Constitution are not “We, the politicians.” They are “We, the people.” In our 2018 midterm elections, the people in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah joined Arizona, California and other states in making important reforms to take back their democracy. Each of these states provides a unique roadmap to achieving success at the ballot box. Let’s learn from these victories, build upon them, and terminate gerrymandering in all states before the next set of redistricting maps are drawn after the 2020 census. 

    Fahey is executive director of Voters Not Politicians Michigan,Schwarzenegger is former governor of California and Thiry is CEO of DaVita and co-chair of Fair Maps Colorado.

Search the Redistrict Network


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software