U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, a Wisconsin Republican, and his Democratic colleague in the House, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, unveiled a pair of bills back in March that got little notice but could go a long way to making the nation’s reapportionment process less partisan. Ribble and Cooper would reduce the authority of state legislatures in the redistricting process, a job that must be done every 10 years after the Census to ensure equal representation in congressional districts. One of the bills would require that states establish independent commissions to do the actual drawing of lines. The other bill would require the states to put all redistricting information online and call for public comment before new district maps are approved. We favor such changes. There is little doubt that leaving the job of drawing district lines to politicians, whether for state or federal seats, opens the door to political mischief.
Michigan: Lawmakers call for ‘citizen-led’ redistricting commission to curb gerrymandering | MLive.com
Michigan Democrats in the state House are renewing their call for a citizen-led redistricting commission in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed a similar model in Arizona. Reps. Jon Hoadley and Jeremy Moss are reintroducing legislation that would create a bipartisan and independent committee to draw new political boundary lines each decade following the national census.
The 3rd congressional districts in Maryland and Virginia are roughly 200 miles apart — depending on which part of their ungainly boundaries one takes as a starting point — and, on the surface, seem to have little in common. Virginia’s 3rd stretches from Norfolk to Richmond. Maryland’s 3rd, with contours often likened to a blood spatter, incorporates parts of Baltimore City, as well as parts of Anne Arundel (including Annapolis), Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties. What they share is a genesis in bald-faced gerrymandering contrived by politicians intent on manipulating electoral maps to their advantage by hand-picking their own voters. Democrats are the culprits in Maryland’s case; Republicans did the deed in Virginia. Encouragingly, there are signs that the jig may be up, or that at least it is facing more pressure than ever before.
Legislative leaders Monday announced a mid-August special session to redraw the state’s congressional districts, a process that will include a handful of transparency measures, after the Florida Supreme Court ruled the last version were illegally drawn for partisan advantage. Deliberations during the August 10 through 21 special legislative session will begin from a “base map” drawn by legislative staff and legal counsel. Elected officials will not be involved in that initial process. The Senate redistricting committee will be led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano of Bradenton, while state Rep. Jose Oliva of Miami will chair the House committee. He replaces state Rep. Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, who led the House redistricting committee during a special session last summer that was required after the court tossed lawmaker’s first congressional map.
Editorials: Another civil rights struggle in the Carolinas over voting | Ruth Marcus/The Washington Post
For all the understandable attention devoted to removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, a civil rights struggle with far more practical consequences is playing out one state away. In a trial that just began in a federal courthouse in North Carolina last week, lawyers for the Justice Department and civil rights organizations are challenging a state law that limited the days for early voting, ended same-day registration and barred voters who turned up at the wrong precinct. The case presents the stark question: 50 years after its passage, does the Voting Rights Act retain any teeth? Two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted a central aspect of the law, the “pre-clearance” provision requiring nine states and political subdivisions, mostly in the South, to submit proposed changes in voting procedures for federal approval.
Last week saw two developments that bring hope for a stronger democracy in Ohio: the kickoff of a bipartisan campaign for a constitutional amendment to reform how Ohio’s Statehouse districts are drawn, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that opens up a chance to reform the drawing of districts for Congress, as well. At the moment, Ohio’s state and national political districts are the handiwork of majority Republicans, and they’re a masterpiece of gerrymandering, drawn to produce as many Republican-dominated districts as possible. Despite the fact that Ohio voters are about evenly split and have chosen the Democrat in the past two presidential elections, Republicans have won 12 of its 16 U.S. House seats and control the state legislature by a two-thirds margin. Democrats have done the same when they’ve had the opportunity to control the process.
There’s a hundred-million-dollar battle brewing for control of Congress, but it’s not going to be resolved for seven more years, and the battles will take place in lands far away from Washington. Both Democrats and Republicans think controlling state legislatures in 2020 is one of the most important political battles to fight, mostly for one reason: The power of the pen — the kind that draws district lines, that is. Five years out, both sides are in a fundraising battle to build war chests of $70 million to $125 million to swing state legislatures their way by 2020, when new electoral maps will get drawn across the country. The Republican State Leadership Committee announced Thursday it’s launching RedMap 2020 and aiming to invest $125 million to expand their majority in the statehouses and redraw the nation’s electoral lines.
Florida G.O.P. officials coordinated with Republican political consultants in an effort to quietly push for favorable state Senate maps, according to depositions and court documents. A lawsuit challenging the state Senate maps was filed in 2012, but it lay dormant as a separate suit over the state’s congressional maps winded its way through the courts. That lawsuit eventually reached the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled last week that eight congressional seats violated anti-gerrymandering provisions passed by voters in 2010.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled congressional maps drawn by the Legislature following the 2010 census resulted in political gerrymandering, and thereby were unconstitutional. The justices ordered new districts be created within 100 days. This follows a ruling a year ago by Judge Terry P. Lewis that two of Florida’s congressional districts were unconstitutional and “made a mockery” of the voter-approved Fair Districts amendment, and thus had to be redrawn. I guess they’ll get it right eventually. The court ruled that lawmakers specifically must redraw eight of the state’s congressional districts, which will end up affecting all 27 of them in some way. Locally, this includes the 13th and 14th Districts, now held by Reps. David Jolly and Kathy Castor. The reshaping will threaten incumbents and possibly entice some challengers who otherwise might not have run for office (see Crist, Charlie). In other words, we might end up with some competitive races, which is what the Fair Districts amendment was designed to produce.
Is Republican bias in Florida’s congressional districts really the fault of the legislature? Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled by 5-2 that eight of Florida’s 27 congressional districts were drawn with “partisan intent” favoring the Republican Party. The districts in question, drawn after the 2010 census, were used in the 2012 House elections. In those elections, the Republicans drew 51 percent of the vote yet won 63 percent of Florida’s House seats. In a perfectly unbiased electoral system, a party winning 50 percent of the statewide votes would earn 50 percent of the congressional seats. But the legislature that drew the districts might not be completely at fault.
It’s a good bet that recent court rulings on redistricting will embolden residents in other states to emulate Florida, Arizona, and California in adopting oversight measures and rules for redistricting or creating independent commissions to oversee the process. A Florida Supreme Court ruling last week ordering parts of the state’s congressional map to be redrawn affirmed the idea that, left unchecked, state legislatures will create uncompetitive districts and need oversight if the job is not to be taken away. The 5-2 ruling said that the state’s congressional map violates anti-gerrymandering provisions in Florida’s constitution by unfairly favoring Republicans and incumbent lawmakers. Not two weeks earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of an independent redistricting commission, established by Arizona voters in 2000 through the ballot-initiative process.
Florida: The cost to taxpayers for failed redistricting maps? $8.1 million, and counting | Miami Herald
According to the latest tally by the Florida House and Senate, the cost to taxpayers for the Legislature’s defense of the redistricting maps that the Florida Supreme Court ruled invalid last week is $8.1 million. With a trial scheduled to begin in September over the challenge from Democrat-leaning voter groups to the state Senate map, the cost to the taxpayers is mounting. The House, which doesn’t face a legal challenge to its own maps, has spent the most — $4.2 million, through July 10. The Senate has spent $3.9 million — so far. What could that money be used for had lawmakers not relied on political operatives and illegally created a map with the intent to protect incumbents? It would be enough to pay $10,000 bonuses to 810 high-performing teachers. It’s enough to pay the average hospital stay for 4,050 uninsured. It’s even enough to expand the tax free back-to-school holiday another day.
Twice, Florida courts have rejected the Legislature’s attempts to redraw the map for congressional districts, saying that Republicans in power rigged the results to their advantage. This, after Florida voters overwhelmingly passed two amendments in 2010 aimed at keeping politics out of the process. Now, finally, can we get a nonpartisan independent commission to do what the politicians obviously can’t? On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a circuit court’s finding that political operatives had worked behind the scenes to “taint” the state’s redistricting process with “improper partisan intent.” But the high court said Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis didn’t go far enough last summer when he ordered that two congressional districts be redrawn. Instead, the Supreme Court threw out eight districts that the Legislature drew up in 2012 — and gave the lawmakers just 100 days to create a new map of congressional districts, one that makes a decisive break with the state’s long history of partisan political gerrymandering.
Opponents of partisan gerrymandering have scored a series of legal victories in recent weeks as courts rule in favor of reforms aimed at making congressional elections more competitive. On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Republican-led legislature violated the state constitution when it drew congressional district lines that intentionally favored one party. That decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that an independent redistricting commission in Arizona did not violate the U.S. Constitution. Also in June, a three-member panel of federal judges ordered Virginia’s General Assembly to redraw some congressional district lines after finding legislators packed too many African-American voters into Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D) district.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that eight of the state’s 27 congressional maps must be redrawn by the GOP-led state legislature, a decision that will impact a number of nationally watched House seats in the 2016 election cycle. The 5-2 decision says lawmakers only need to redraw the eight impacted seats, half of which are in South Florida — but because that will impact neighboring districts, the changes will send ripple effects across the state.
Twenty-four hours after the Florida Supreme Court’s major decision calling for eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts to be redrawn, it’s unknown what the leaders of the Florida Legislature will do in response. The court gave them 100 days to respond to their call to redraw those eight districts, which would ultimately affect the district lines of all 27 districts. Jacksonville area Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown may pursue legal action because her uniquely drawn District 5 is one of those districts that the court says must be redrawn.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected political gerrymandering by state legislators and ordered eight congressional districts redrawn within 100 days, a decision likely to complicate preparations for next year’s elections. In the 5-to-2 decision, the justices concurred with a trial court’s finding that a 2012 redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led Legislature had been tainted by “unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbent lawmakers,” and that Republican “operatives” and political consultants “did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process.” A proposed map of congressional and legislative districts was presented to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in 2011. The Republican-led State Legislature sued to challenge the voter-created commission.
Lawyers for House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell are making a surprising argument to defend against an accusation of racial gerrymandering: Raw, partisan politics targeting Democrats fueled the 2011 redistricting process as much as race. A trial began Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on the constitutionality of Virginia’s most recent drawing of legislative boundaries in the House of Delegates. The lawsuit alleges the redistricting plan illegally packs African-American voters into 12 legislative districts. As a result, according to the suit, black voters’ influence in the remaining 88 districts is diminished. A panel of three federal judges is overseeing the trial and must decide whether race was the overriding factor in drawing the lines. Such a finding would increase the chances that the boundaries would be found unconstitutional. If, on the other hand, the judges decide that race was just one of many factors that went into the redistricting, it is more likely that the boundaries would pass muster.
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the will of the voters with its ruling in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The Court’s ruling was not a resounding victory in the battle against GOP gerrymandering; rather, it simply confirms the rights of voters in states like Arizona and California to create nonpartisan commissions to conduct congressional redistricting. In most other states, redistricting authority remains in the hands of state legislatures, where Republican lawmakers have employed aggressive gerrymandering to distort Congress and further their partisan agenda. The Arizona ruling is a positive development for those who value meaningful democratic representation in Congress. But Democrats and our allies must not allow this decision to divert us from the most effective strategy to fight GOP gerrymandering: electing more Democratic lawmakers to draw the maps. While the establishment of redistricting commissions by voters will remain an available remedy in a few of the most egregiously gerrymandered states, the work of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and Advantage 2020 to elect more Democratic state legislators remains the most crucial weapon in the fight for fairer districts.
Wisconsin: Voters file federal suit over ‘one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern history’ | Wisconsin Gazette
Wisconsin voters want a federal court to throw out the state Assembly district map, alleging the line‐drawing process “secretive” and “partisan” and the maps unconstitutional for overly advantaging one party. “My rights as a voter are being violated,” retired university professor Bill Whitford, one of the plaintiffs, stated. “If my vote counted as much as each one of my fellow citizens, I would be able to affect the shape of the Legislature. But I can’t, because they’ve decided through these maps that I simply don’t count.” The lawsuit, Whitford v Nichols, argues the current map is one of the “worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.”
Florida: State Supreme Court orders new congressional map with eight districts to be redrawn | Tampa Bay Times
The Florida Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to Florida’s political landscape Thursday, throwing out the state’s carefully crafted congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature and ordering a new map within 100 days. In the historic 5-2 ruling, the court not only ruled the maps were the product of an unconstitutional political gerrymandering, it signaled its deep distrust of lawmakers and provided detailed instructions on how to repair the flawed map in time for the 2016 election. “This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn’t pick their voters,” said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and the coalition of voter groups which brought the challenge. “The Supreme Court accepted every challenge we made and ordered the Legislature to do it over.” The new maps are likely to reconfigure nearly all of the state’s 27 congressional districts, open the door to new candidates, and threaten incumbents, who will now face a new set of boundary lines and constituents close to the 2016 election.
Editorials: Gerrymandering won’t end with Supreme Court decision | Carl P. Leubsdorf/Dallas Morning News
The Supreme Court’s decision to allow a redistricting commission set up by Arizona voters holds the potential of reducing the rampant gerrymandering that has virtually guaranteed a Republican-controlled U.S. House until at least 2022. And that would be a good thing, since partisan redistricting in a half-dozen states has skewed the makeup of the House of Representatives, which James Madison said was supposed to display “fidelity and sympathy with the great mass of the people.” But it probably won’t happen. The reason: It’s almost impossible to take politics out of the process by which legislatures re-draw legislative and congressional district lines after every census to reflect population changes. Every unequal redistricting has essentially resulted from an election.
As the battle over Florida’s political boundaries looms, the Florida Supreme Court is set to make a decision on the disputed congressional districts. A ruling could come as soon as Thursday. A trial on state Senate districts that lawmakers drew in 2012 is set to be heard by Circuit Judge George Reynolds beginning Sept. 25. But in a flurry of briefs and arguments filed in recent weeks, the Legislature and a coalition of voting-rights groups and citizens have laid out many of the arguments that Reynolds will hear in the high-stakes trial. The opponents of the Senate map, led by the League of Women Voters of Florida, have specifically challenged 28 of the 40 districts that lawmakers crafted during the once-a-decade redistricting process that follows every Census. The 2012 process, though, was the first to fall under the state’s anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments, which were approved by voters two years earlier.
The chief architect of a Republican legislative redistricting plan said Wednesday that race was just one of many factors used to redraw boundaries in Virginia’s House of Delegates, disputing claims that the redistricting sought at all costs to pack black voters into a dozen districts. Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, testified in front of a three-judge panel overseeing the redistricting trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The GOP-controlled House of Delegates is defending itself against a civil lawsuit alleging that the 2011 redistricting unconstitutionally crowded black voters into 12 districts, limiting their influence in the rest of the state.
The biggest racket in American politics is the process by which legislative district lines are decided. In most states, the party that controls the legislature also draws the map. And in a process known as “gerrymandering”, that party typically rigs the districts to make sure its candidates prosper while rival candidates lose. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of producing congressional districts, like the one on the right in Massachusetts in 1812, so contorted that they have earned the names “Salamander”, “Hanging Claw” and “The Pinwheel of Death”.
The Supreme Court’s decision to allow voters to take the authority to draw congressional district lines away from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions has many Democrats and progressives in Michigan very happy. There’s been lots of rejoicing among those who’ve hated gerrymandering – the drawing of district lines to benefit one party over the over. For the past fifteen years Michigan Republicans have dominated the redistricting process because they’ve been in control when the lines have been drawn. So, for Democrats, the Holy Grail is some kind of redistricting reform: taking the power of drawing district lines away lawmakers and giving it to an independent commission.
Now that independent redistricting commissions have the seal of approval of the U.S. Supreme Court, maybe it’s time for Colorado to consider one. The high court ruled last week that Arizona voters had been within their rights when they passed a referendum stripping the legislature of its authority to draw congressional boundaries every 10 years. Voters set up an independent commission to do the job instead. The 5-4 ruling is controversial, and appears to override fairly explicit constitutional language, but it’s now the law of the land. And it provides an opportunity for Colorado to reform its redistricting process and thus address what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delicately called “the problem of partisan gerrymandering.”
Buoyed by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, advocates of overhauling how Michigan draws legislative and congressional seats plan to raise public awareness about redistricting in preparation for a potential 2016 ballot initiative. The ruling, issued in the last week, upheld the authority of states to strip lawmakers’ authority to set congressional district maps once a decade. Arizona voters had created an independent commission in 2000 to take the politically charged job out of the hands of the Legislature. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause, groups that advocate for fairer maps, are researching other states’ redistricting systems and conducting polling before ramping up educational efforts with help from local civic groups.
Before the Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona redistricting case, electoral reform efforts had been in limbo. But Monday’s 5-4 ruling is a major victory for those who support citizen redistricting commissions as a way to counter the polarization and partisan gerrymandering that result from politicians drawing their own legislative districts. In 2000, Arizona voters passed a proposition to shift authority for drawing legislative districts from state lawmakers to a five-member independent commission. Republican legislators who didn’t like the districts that the commission drew after the 2010 Census brought suit in 2012, arguing that it was unconstitutional for anyone except lawmakers to draw congressional districts. In her opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dispatched this idea. “Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,’ ” she wrote.
Editorials: Mindlessly Literal Reading Loses Again: This Supreme Court decision is a dig at Bush v. Gore | Richard Hasen/Slate
The Supreme Court ended its term Monday with another major rejection of conservative attempts to use wooden, textualist arguments to upset sensible policies. The result in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which upheld the use of independent commissions to draw Arizona’s congressional districts, is a big win for election reformers and supporters of direct democracy. The Arizona decision also undermines the strongest conservative argument in favor of George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, the case that handed him the 2000 presidential election. Monday’s 5–4 decision has much in common with last week’s blockbuster Obamacare ruling. In a 6–3 decision in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court upheld the availability of federal subsidies for those signed up for Obamacare despite language in the health care law that could have been interpreted to give those subsidies only to those on state exchanges. The court rejected a narrow reading of the term “such exchanges” in the health care case because it saw its job not to read the text out of context but to follow broad congressional purpose. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the King majority: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”