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  • 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.

  • 31 Jan 2019 2:57 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    New Bipartisan Poll Shows Support for Supreme Court to Establish Clear Rules for Gerrymandering - Campaign Legal Center

    In January 2019, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) released a poll that finds strong opposition to gerrymandering among likely 2020 general election voters and broad, bipartisan support for the U.S. Supreme Court to set clear rules for when gerrymandering violates the Constitution. The poll, commissioned by CLC, was conducted by a Democratic firm, ALG Research, and a Republican firm, GS Strategy Group.

    The poll also reveals that voters strongly support the creation of independent redistricting commissions and overwhelmingly prefer congressional districts with no partisan bias, even if it means fewer seats for their own party.

    In addition to the strong desire to see the Supreme Court act to limit gerrymandering, people have expressed a clear preference for the creation of independent redistricting commissions, which voters supported in all five states where it was put to a vote in the 2018 cycle. Removing partisanship from the redistricting process will help ensure that every voice is heard in our democracy.

    Findings include:

    • Nearly three-quarters of voters support the U.S. Supreme Court establishing clear rules for when gerrymandering violates the Constitution, with broad support extending across partisan and racial lines.
      • Support is especially intense among Latinos, 55 percent of whom strongly support the Supreme Court setting such rules.
    • At least 60 percent of Democrats, Independents and Republicans support the creation of independent redistricting commissions.
    • When asked to choose whether boundaries for legislative and congressional districts should be drawn by state legislatures or by an independent redistricting commission, voters favor the latter by a nearly three-to-one margin.

    Learn more about the poll

  • 28 Jan 2019 6:48 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    These local business leaders want to put end to government gridlock - Washington Business Journal - by Katishi Maake

    Robert Giaimo, the CEO of Silver Diner Inc., has over the years grown increasingly frustrated with political gridlock in Washington.

    The record 35-day partial government shutdown that furloughed 800,000 federal workers (and just ended — at least for three weeks) has been one of the biggest pieces of that frustration.

    It was the impetus for Giaimo and his friend Tod Sedgwick, who happen to be registered in opposing political parties, to bring together a group of Greater Washington business leaders called "Democracy Group" to combat what they see as the primary cause of the gridlock: congressional gerrymandering.

    Gerrymandering is the process of drawing congressional districts in favor a political party. Since redistricting is handled by most state legislatures, parties in the majority can carve out districts in a manner that makes races much less competitive.

    Giaimo and Sedgwick believe gerrymandering incentivizes more extreme candidates from both parties to field primary challenges to moderates, which leads to more congressional polarization — pointing to the shutdown as evidence.

    "Lack of bipartisanship and extreme partisanship has driven our political system into a dysfunctional state," said Giaimo, who co-founded the Rockville-based restaurant chain in 1989. "We’ve seen that manifest with the shutdown."

    Giaimo partnered with Sedgwick, a former business owner, and Glenn Nye, president and CEO of nonprofit think tank the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, to rally local business leaders to push Maryland and Virginia to restructure how congressional districts are drawn.

    The CSPC helped Giaimo and Sedgwick author an op-ed outlining the issues with gerrymandering and how it affects the political system. So far, 20 Greater Washington business executives have signed on, including Sid Banerjee, founder and vice chairman of Clarabridge Inc.; Brett Schulman, CEO of Cava Group Inc.; Dan Simons, the co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group; Neil Cohen, president of District Photo Inc.; Craig Ruppert, CEO of Ruppert Landscape Inc.; and Michael P. Gavin, chair of the board of MCR Federal LLC.



    SWaN & Legend, Interstate to resurrect historic Harpers Ferry hotel

    The planned Hill Top House resort is a resurrection of sorts of the historic Hilltop House in the same location, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.


    Everything must go from the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center

    The glass-enclosed nerve center at WTOP in D.C. Everything inside will be sold as the station moves to Maryland.


    Bizwomen Mentoring Monday 2019

    Feb. 25

    For Simons, who said business was slow at his Farmers restaurants during the shutdown, the issue of gerrymandering is cut and dry.

    "If you’re in a game and those you’re playing with can rig the rules to their advantage, then it’s not really a game anymore," said Simons, who said he's a registered independent. "The anti-gerrymandering approach should be the easiest bipartisan position to take."

    In Virginia, federal judges determined last week that the state's redistricting map favors Democrats, turning six districts currently held by Republicans majority blue, according to The Washington Post.

    Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in December appointed members to a commission tasked with redrawing the state's districts after a federal court ruled one of was unconstitutionally drawn to disenfranchise Republican voters, according to The Baltimore Sun.

    Giaimo and Sedgwick both believe independent commissions are the best way to ensure bias is stamped out of the redistricting process across all 50 states. While the shutdown is one of the only byproducts of gerrymandering that has directly affected the business community, they believe prominent businesspeople can move the needle on an issue they see as nonpartisan.

    "We need to change our political systems so it favors compromise," Sedgwick said. "This is not just a pipe dream."

  • 28 Jan 2019 6:45 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Viewpoint: Fix our gerrymandered politics before it’s too late - Washington Business Journal

    The following Guest Comment was signed by 20 business leaders from Maryland and Virginia who have formed a coalition called Democracy Group. Find the signatories' names at the end of the piece, and read a news story about the effort here.

    Our political system is broken. Our gridlocked elected representatives are presently unable to maintain the most basic responsibility of their position: a functioning government.

    Our government has just presided over a record-long shutdown that impacted the pay of an estimated 800,000 federal workers and scores of federal contractors. Businesses that depend on the basic functioning of government have seen decades of hard work consumed by the self-inflicted chaos and uncertainty spewing from our nation’s capital. Critical functions such as the processing of tax returns, small business loans and mortgage approvals were stymied- not to mention thousands of officials, including air traffic controllers and TSA agents, required to work without pay.

    The consequences ripple throughout the U.S. economy, but nowhere more than in our own backyard: D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Although the government has reopened for three weeks, the partisan polarization remains so deep that no one is confident that our leaders are incentivized to pursue the pragmatic solutions needed to keep the country moving forward. We urgently need to fix the political system that keeps allowing this to happen.

    As leaders of businesses in Maryland, Virginia and and the District of Columbia, we are Democrats, Republicans and independents, but we are all Americans first, gathering in our concern about the functioning of our democracy. We believe the time is long past due to fix our broken politics. Each of us has learned that for any organization to be effective, it must always remain responsive and accountable to the people it serves. Our job is to solve problems with common-sense workable solutions. If we allowed gridlock in our businesses or failed to align the underlying system of incentives with the broad preferences of our customers, we would go out of business!



    SWaN & Legend, Interstate to resurrect historic Harpers Ferry hotel

    The planned Hill Top House resort is a resurrection of sorts of the historic Hilltop House in the same location, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.


    Everything must go from the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center

    The glass-enclosed nerve center at WTOP in D.C. Everything inside will be sold as the station moves to Maryland.


    Co-Manager of Student Programs

    Close Up Foundation

    The endemic dysfunction in our government stems from incentives in politics that promote ideological purity over pragmatic problem solving and cooperation. That has to change. We believe anti-gerrymandering measures are the logical starting point for reform, and they are urgently needed in both Maryland and Virginia. A system in which politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around, is inherently wrong and dysfunctional. Partisan gerrymandering is a protection racket for incumbent politicians, and it greatly contributes not only to widespread voter cynicism and apathy, but also to the kind of paralysis currently afflicting our federal government.

    Entrusting the job of drawing political districts to independent commissions would eliminate the conflict of interests inherent in having politicians cherry-pick their own voters, a process that rewards ideological purity and politicians who play to their most partisan voters, who reject the sensible compromises needed to govern effectively. Gerrymandering has led to a House of Representatives in which the vast majority of seats are uncompetitive. Members in safe seats mostly fear challenges from their left and right flanks in low-turnout primaries where the most partisan voters dominate, meaning these politicians have no incentive to reach across the aisle and strike compromises necessary to keep government functional. The kind of partisan gridlock that now grips our nation’s capital inevitably ensues. We’ve seen it time and time again.

    The American people are clearly on to this rigged game. In a recent poll conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy, nearly four out of five Virginia voters (78 percent) favored amending their state Constitution to transfer the power to draw legislative districts from the General Assembly to an independent commission. It’s past time for politicians of goodwill on both sides of the political aisle to listen to their constituents and reform the rules, restoring fair and impartial elections as a pillar of a functioning democracy.

    While politicians and judges in Washington have failed to address the corrosive issue of gerrymandering, citizens across the country have stood up to act locally. Bipartisan coalitions of voters in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Missouri all passed in 2018 midterm elections major anti-gerrymandering initiatives that will take the drawing of congressional districts out of the hands of political partisans and entrust that critical job instead to independent or bipartisan commissions. They are set to join California and Arizona, which already adopted nonpartisan commissions. Not content to wait for action from Washington, these citizens moved to fix the system from the state level. Virginians and Marylanders have the chance to do the same, but we need to act now.

    Time is already running short for the necessary anti-gerrymandering reforms. The Virginia General Assembly will have to pass a constitutional amendment in its current session and again next year, and voters must approve it through a ballot referendum, for an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to be in place in time for the next congressional district drawing in 2021. That’s why we strongly support efforts like those of OneVirginia2021, which recently unveiled a constitutional amendment crafted by a bipartisan Citizens Committee of former lawmakers, policy staff and constitutional scholars. The Virginia General Assembly is debating the constitutional amendment in the session currently underway, adding to the urgency.We likewise support efforts like those of the League of Women Voters in Maryland to pass similar legislation establishing an independent commission for redrawing voting boundaries in Maryland.

    As business leaders and citizens, we call on our fellow Virginians and Marylanders to reject cynicism and urgently contact their state lawmakers to demand that they support nonpartisan districting commissions in their states. Gerrymandering is a cancer on our democracy and it must end. America simply cannot afford another decade of broken politics.

    Bob Giaimo, co-founder and CEO of Silver Diner

    Tod Sedgwick, former CEO, Pasha Publications

    Sid Banerjee, founder and vice chairman, Clarabridge

    Dan Simons, co-owner, Farmers Restaurant Group

    Neil D. Cohen, president, District Photo

    Craig Ruppert, CEO, Ruppert Landscape

    Michael P. Galvin, chair of the board of MCR Federal LLC

    Ray Ottenberg, president, Ottenberg Bakers

    Ethan Assal, chairman and CEO, Verasolve

    Edward Lenkin, president, The Lenkin Co.

    Jed Lyons, president and CEO, Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group

    Robert Goldstein, founder and president, Maryland Sound International Holding Co LLC

    Mark Joseph, former head of Yellow Transportation

    Pierce Dunn, founder, TalentWell

    Maxine Phillips, vice president international business development, Phillips Foods Inc.

    Brad Callahan, CEO, MetaCoastal

    Charles Feghali, president, NGE Systems LLC

    Brett Schulman, CEO, Cava Group Inc.

    Alan Chetrit, chairman, LabConnect

    Andrea J. Wooten, president, River Bend Strategies

  • 26 Jan 2019 2:40 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    GOP asks Supreme Court to block Dem settlement in gerrymandering suit - The Detroit News - Jonathan Oosting

    Lansing — Michigan Republicans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hit pause on a federal lawsuit alleging GOP gerrymandering, a move that could disrupt a settlement agreement announced Friday by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

    Benson's deal with plaintiffs would require Michigan to redraw at least 11 state House districts. It would likely force a recalibration of an unknown number of surrounding districts as well.

    But attorneys for Republican lawmakers are asking the nation’s highest court to intervene and delay any action in the suit until justices consider arguments in similar gerrymandering cases out of North Carolina and Maryland they are expected to take up in March.

    “The Supreme Court will be ruling soon on the exact issues presented in this case, and this afternoon we asked the United States Supreme Court to stay this entire proceeding,” attorney Charlie Spies told The Detroit News by email.

    State House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, Rep. Aaron Miller of Sturgis and several congressional Republicans directed their request to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Democratic nominee.

    The Michigan lawsuit alleges maps approved by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 intentionally diluted the power of Democratic voters by “packing” or “cracking” them into specific districts.

    The new districts would only apply for the 2020 elections. Voters last fall approved the creation of a citizen redistricting commission that will draw maps for 2022 and beyond.

    As part of the deal with Benson, which would require approval by a three-judge panel overseeing the case, plaintiffs agreed to drop challenges to congressional and state Senate districts, along with four other state House Districts.

    The 11 state House districts targeted in the agreement “represent some of the most egregious examples of the unconstitutional attempts by past legislators to draw legislative districts in an effort to rig the partisan outcomes of elections,” Benson told reporters at a Friday briefing.

    Several neighboring districts would likely need to be redrawn as well, but “that’s going to be a question for the Legislature,” Benson said.

    The Michigan gerrymandering case is currently scheduled to go to trial Feb. 5. In their application to the U.S. Supreme Court, GOP attorneys suggested federal judges are aware of settlement talks but made clear they do not plan to delay the trial for “any reason.”

    Plaintiff attorneys submitted the proposed settlement Friday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

    “The next step is whether the court will accept it, and we’ll go from there,” Benson said.​​​​​​

    ​Benson: Deal avoids 'upheaval'

    The Detroit Democrat said she pushed plaintiffs to drop congressional and state Senate district challenges to minimize “upheaval." But the deal still reflects her view that gerrymandering occurred in a way that violated the constitutional mandate of “one person, one vote.”

    Benson has been the subject of considerable GOP scorn the past week after signaling her intent to settle the federal lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters, a group of Democratic voters and attorney Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

    Michigan Republican Party spokesman Tony Zammit blasted the deal, saying Benson “has shown she cannot be impartial in this case, and therefore she must be replaced as it’s defendant.” Former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, had defended the GOP maps.

    Benson denied partisan motivation for settling the case she inherited after taking office this month, suggesting she did not want to waste taxpayer resources fighting a case she believes the state would lose. The deal would give the Republican-led Legislature the first opportunity to redraw the state House lines, subject to judicial review.

    “It does not matter to me who or what parties drew the districts," Benson said. "What matters to me is whether they were drawn to circumvent the will of the voters.”

    The proposed consent decree would require the state to redraw state House districts 24, 32, 51, 55, 60, 63, 76, 91, 92, 94 and 95. Six of those seats are currently held by Republicans and five are controlled by Democrats. Republicans currently represent 58 of 110 state House districts, a six-seat majority.

    “The Democrats know it will be nearly impossible to redraw these 11 districts without affecting countless others causing electoral chaos,” Zammit said. “Worse yet, outdated 10-year-old data will be utilized to draw the new lines which will not accurately reflect the demographics of our state.”

    The deal does not dictate how the Republican-led Legislature should redraw the state House districts, but it encourages them to do so in “transparent proceedings open to the public.”

    The 11 targeted districts include two Republican-held seats in Metro Detroit, both in Macomb County, currently represented by Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township and Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township.

    None of the settlement districts are north of Mount Pleasant, meaning seats in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula where Republicans are dominant are unlikely to be affected.

    The federal court would be responsible for establishing a deadline for the redrawn state House maps and determining how it would judge the partisan fairness of the proposed districts.

    Brewer ties blasted

    Republican lawmakers have denied overt political bias in the district boundaries they approved in 2011, but emails between map makers revealed in the federal case have included partisan references and commentary on the prospects of maintaining GOP power.

    Benson told reporters she expected Republican opposition to the settlement despite its limited nature, which means state senators just elected to four-year terms would not need to run for re-election in 2020.

    “I think no matter what decision I made in this case, someone was going to be upset, whether we went to trial or whether we settled or not,” she said.

    Republicans have blasted Benson for connections to Brewer, the former state Democratic party chairman who donated $500 to her campaign and is a lead attorney for plaintiffs in the case.

    Earlier this week, the Michigan GOP accused Benson and Brewer of trying to orchestrate “the greatest partisan power grab in Michigan history,” and attorneys for Republican lawmakers asked court permission to demand their communications donating back to 2017.

    Benson noted she raised more than $1 million for her campaign and received donations from both Republicans and Democrats.

    “If anyone giving me $500 can influence a decision I made when you raise that much money from thousands of people, then we’re in trouble,” she said. “And so that’s certainly not the case here.”

    The settlement does not require any state payments to cover the cost of plaintiff attorneys but makes clear that the parties could agree to award fees at a later date.

    “How much money are the taxpayers of Michigan going to be paying Mark Brewer’s law firm in this case?” Zammit said.

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