A federal court is expected to rule soon on whether Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities and failed to draw enough minority-majority districts when it adopted its current congressional map. The decision could put a meaningful dent in the G.O.P.’s advantage in the House heading into next year’s midterm elections. In an oft-quoted Texas Tribune article, Republican lawyers have raised the possibility of an “Armageddon map” — one that endangered a half-dozen Republican districts, fully one-fourth of the 24 seats that Democrats need to retake the House in 2018. “Armageddon” might not be the likeliest outcome. But a victory for Texas Republicans might not be the likeliest outcome either.
Two federal judges said Thursday they are concerned that North Carolina legislative leaders have taken few if any steps to draw new election maps since they were struck down last year, and one judge suggested they don’t appear to be taking their duty seriously. A three-judge panel is deciding when and how the electoral map must be remade. “What concerns, at least me, is the seriousness of how this is being taken by the legislature. This is serious,” Judge James A. Wynn of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals told a lawyer for the legislative leaders at a hearing in federal court in Greensboro. His fellow panel member, U.S District Judge Catherine Eagles, then added: “You don’t seem serious. What’s our assurance that you are serious about remedying this?” The panel ruled in August 2016 that 28 state House and Senate districts were illegally drawn, based on racial considerations. After Republicans took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices agreed this summer that the districts must be redrawn. Democrats hope the new boundaries could help them erode the GOP’s veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers.
Wisconsin: State files first brief to U.S. Supreme Court in gerrymandering case | Wisconsin State Journal
State lawyers defending Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting plan, which was called an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by a federal court panel, filed their opening brief Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the high court should reject the lower court ruling and throw out a lawsuit brought in 2015 by a group of state Democratic voters. The Supreme Court in June announced that it would decide the case, and later set oral arguments for Oct. 3. The group of Democrats charges that the 2011 plan was designed to heavily favor Republican candidates in state legislative races, giving them a built-in advantage to retain a large majority of seats in Wisconsin’s legislative houses, despite statewide vote totals in presidential races that typically split nearly evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
Republican leaders have tapped a familiar consultant to help with the drawing of new districts for electing General Assembly members after maps he drew six years ago were found by the federal courts to include illegal racial gerrymanders. Tom Hofeller, a seasoned GOP mapmaker and a chief architect of the 2011 N.C. maps, is working with legislative leaders again on how to create new districts that will pass muster. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and House redistricting leader, informed a group of legislators on Wednesday of Hofeller’s return to a process that could determine how the state is divided into political districts for the rest of the decade. Hofeller was profiled in The Atlantic magazine in 2012 in an article titled “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.”
Wisconsin: Democrats’ short-lived 2012 recall victory led to key evidence in partisan gerrymandering case | Capital Times
By most accounts, the 2011 and 2012 gubernatorial and Senate recall elections were a complete disaster for Wisconsin Democrats. Gov. Scott Walker’s historic victory boosted his fundraising and re-election prospects. The recall petition became a litmus test for party loyalty. And though Democrats recaptured the Senate majority in June 2012, they lost it five months later and have been shut out of state government ever since. But some Democrats see a silver lining in the recalls that has gone mostly unnoticed until now: The unearthing of key evidence in a potentially landmark legislative redistricting case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Supporters of legislative redistricting reform vowed to tackle the issue during the next Indiana General Assembly as about 90 people gathered for a rally Monday at the Statehouse. “We need Hoosiers in every corner of the state to talk about this issue, raise their voices up and demand that we, your representatives, strengthen our democracy by ending gerrymandering,” said State Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis. Currently, the Indiana Legislature conducts redistricting at the start of each decade, typically based on an advisory commission’s recommendations. Critics say the lines are drawn to support political parties.
Though the drive from Mount Washington in Baltimore to Hunt Valley in Baltimore County spanned only 13 miles, the travelers passed through four different congressional districts. Members of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other groups stopped at four different restaurants along the way Sunday afternoon to highlight what they characterized as Maryland’s extreme gerrymandering, in which boundaries of districts are manipulated to favor a specific incumbent or political party. Opponents of the practice said they felt the momentum was with them to start redrawing district lines to be more compact and fair. In Maryland, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one. But with the map drawn in 2011 by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and legislative leaders, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state’s House delegation by seven to one.
Wendy Sue Johnson can look out her bedroom window in the 91st Assembly District and see across her side yard into the 68th District. Her house was in the 68th until Wisconsin lawmakers redrew state legislative borders in 2011. Republicans, who had just won control of the Legislature, rearranged districts that year to maximize the number of seats their party would win. It worked. In 2012, Republican candidates collected 48.6 percent of all votes cast in Assembly elections, but they won 60 of 99 Assembly seats. Johnson is among 12 Democratic plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of the new map. A federal court agreed with them in November. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Wisconsin case in October, setting the stage for historic changes to a bedrock political process and the balance of power in state capitals.
Texas: Why Texas is Texas: A gerrymandering case cuts to the core of the state’s transformation | Los Angeles Times
Civil rights groups descended on a San Antonio courthouse Monday to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s current redistricting maps and accuse Republican legislators of deliberately drawing them to dilute the voting power of minorities. The trial is only the latest round in a long-running Texas saga over gerrymandering and race. Voting rights advocates have long accused Texas Republicans of working to undermine the growing political clout of Latino and African American voters by intentionally — and unfairly — cramming them into districts or splitting them up so they are outnumbered. Republican legislators still control roughly two-thirds of State House and Senate and congressional seats.
North Carolina: Legislators: more than 65% of districts could change to correct racial gerrymanders | News & Observer
North Carolina lawmakers say they might have to change 116 of the state’s 170 state legislative districts to correct the illegal racially gerrymandered districts used to elect General Assembly members for the past six years. The private attorneys representing the legislators who were sued over the 2011 district lines offered that detail in federal court documents this week as one reason for opposing special elections this year. A month has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a ruling of three federal judges who found 28 North Carolina legislative districts were drawn illegally to weaken the overall influence of black voters.
Now that the 2017-18 U.S. Supreme Court term has sputtered to a stop, let’s reflect on the justices’ most important decision of the year. It’s not a case in which the court issued an opinion, but rather one in which it has merely agreed to hear arguments. The most consequential decision the court made this last term was to hear arguments in a case involving the drawing of legislative district lines. Please don’t yawn. This process of drawing district lines, called redistricting, dictates who our state and federal representatives will be. Decisions regarding how we draw district lines implicate every important policy issue, from health care and immigration, to the environment and criminal justice. Because of partisan gerrymandering, many Americans don’t chose their lawmakers. Their lawmakers chose them.
Utah residents might have the chance to vote to form an independent redistricting commission that would redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries after the 2020 Census. A group called Utahns for Responsive Government is working to collect the more than 100,000 signatures required to put the initiative on the state’s 2018 ballot. “I strongly believe that the redistricting process (the determination of political boundaries), badly needs to be improved, and that politicians should not be choosing their voters,” said Ralph Becker, a former Salt Lake City mayor who is a member of the group.
Editorials: The Supreme Court is in no hurry to protect voters from gerrymandering | Richard Hasen/The Washington Post
When it comes to assuring fair elections, the Supreme Court has a new message: Voters can wait. Its recently completed term featured two key redistricting votes in which the court turned away temporary relief for voters as the court considered each case — not because these voters would eventually lose, but because the justices refused to put voters’ interests first. And these rulings build upon the court’s troubling “Purcell principle,” the idea that courts should not make changes to voting rules close to the election, even if those changes are necessary to protect voting rights. Last December, North Carolina appealed to the Supreme Court a three-judge court decision holding that the drawing of certain state legislative districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The lower court also ordered that the state conduct special elections this year to cure the defect. North Carolina appealed that order, too, and it asked the Supreme Court to put the special elections on hold pending a decision on its underlying appeal.
As voters in many states learn more about the ongoing practice and effects of partisan gerrymandering, a high-profile lawsuit originating in Wisconsin may have profound implications for how much a political party can do to keep itself in power. The U.S. Supreme Court announced June 19 that it would hear an appeal in Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to the legislative districts Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature approved in 2011. It’s always thorny to try and predict how the justices will rule on a given case based on their previous rulings and writings, and what they eventually end up asking in oral arguments. But it is helpful to focus in on the specific questions at issue, not just the greater policy implications.
North Carolina: Redistricting skews North Carolina maps for Congress, General Assembly | News & Observer
North Carolina’s congressional and state House districts are among the most Republican-skewed in the country despite voter preferences that are relatively evenly split, according to an Associated Press analysis. The AP calculated the partisan advantage for North Carolina Republicans in the 2016 state and federal House races through a new statistical tool that’s designed to detect cases in which a political party maintained or increased its grip on power through how it drew voting districts. The measurement, known as the “efficiency gap,” has separately gained attention as a key argument in a pending Supreme Court case from Wisconsin that alleges partisan gerrymandering. It’s also cited by groups challenging the design of North Carolina’s congressional map, though the Republican defendants argue the measure shouldn’t be used as a legal standard. In the nationwide AP analysis, North Carolina had the highest efficiency gap – or greatest Republican advantage – among the roughly two-dozen largest states that determine the vast majority of Congress.
The 2016 presidential contest was awash with charges that the fix was in: Republican Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that the election was rigged against him, while Democrats have accused the Russians of stacking the odds in Trump’s favor. Less attention was paid to manipulation that occurred not during the presidential race, but before it — in the drawing of lines for hundreds of U.S. and state legislative seats. The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Republicans had a real advantage. The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last year using a new statistical method of calculating partisan advantage. It’s designed to detect cases in which one party may have won, widened or retained its grip on power through political gerrymandering.
In spring 2011, the six Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegations tasked Eric Hawkins with two key jobs: Draw new district lines that get us re-elected easily for another five terms, while also taking direct aim at the state’s last two Republicans. Behind closed doors, Democratic insiders and high-ranking aides referred to it as “the 7-1 map.” Hawkins—an analyst at a Beltway data firm called NCEC Services—not only made it happen, but imagined an 8-0 map that might have shut Republicans out of power altogether. That, however, would have required spreading Democratic voters a little too thin and made some incumbents slightly less safe; these congressmen were partisans, sure, but they were also reluctant to risk their own seats.
Wisconsin: U.S. Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin’s redistricting case but blocks redrawing of maps | Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case that found Wisconsin Republicans overreached in 2011 by drawing legislative districts that were so favorable to them that they violated the U.S. Constitution. In a related ruling Monday, the high court handed Republicans a victory by blocking a lower court ruling that the state develop new maps by Nov. 1. Democrats and those aligned with them took that order as a sign they could lose the case. The case is being watched nationally because it will likely resolve whether maps of lawmakers’ districts can be so one-sided that they violate the constitutional rights of voters. The question has eluded courts for decades. The court’s ultimate ruling could shift how legislative and congressional lines are drawn — and thus who controls statehouses and Congress. “This is a blockbuster. This could become the most important election law case in years if not decades,” said Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor and co-editor of the book “Election Law Stories.”
Editorials: Do we really want the Supreme Court to decide how partisan is too partisan? | Charles Lane/The Washington Post
On Dec. 12, 2000, the Supreme Court ended the recount of Florida’s votes in that year’s presidential election, effectively awarding 25 electoral votes to Republican George W. Bush and making him president. The decision was 5 to 4, with the most conservative Republican-appointed justices in favor of Bush. Democrats condemned the ruling as nakedly partisan, saying it was based not on precedent but a cooked-to-order legal rationale: Recount rules didn’t treat all ballots the same way, thus violating the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Many critics saw Bush v. Gore as an indelible blot on the court’s legitimacy. Seventeen-odd years later, Democrats are pressing a case whose essential premise is that the Supreme Court can and should be trusted to write a whole new category of rules affecting almost every state legislative and congressional election in the United States.
The Supreme Court has officially agreed to hear a case with the potential to put firm limits on partisan gerrymandering — and dramatically change the way states draw legislative boundaries. The case, Gill v. Whitford, challenges the 2011 Wisconsin state assembly map. Those districts were drawn by the Republican state legislature in Wisconsin, and packed Democrats into a smaller number of districts to maximize Republican odds. The lawsuit argues that the map is an unconstitutional effort to help Republicans retain power.
When Wisconsin Republicans last redrew the State Legislature’s district boundaries, in 2011, they set off a multimillion-dollar legal battle over accusations of gerrymandering that this week was granted a potentially historic hearing by the Supreme Court. Then there is California, which redrew its state legislative and congressional districts the same year with far less rancor. California is the largest of a handful of states that are trying to minimize the partisanship in the almost invariably political act of drawing district lines. California has handed that task to the independent and politically balanced California Citizens Redistricting Commission, and Arizona has a somewhat similar commission. Florida has amended its Constitution to forbid partisanship in drawing new districts. Iowa has offloaded the job to the nonpartisan state agency that drafts bills and performs other services for legislators.
The Supreme Court on Monday stepped, somewhat hesitantly, into the long-standing constitutional controversy over partisan gerrymandering, accepting a major test case for review but giving itself several ways to avoid deciding it. At issue is the question of whether the process of drawing new election district boundaries is unconstitutional if one political party specifically creates maps giving its own candidates a distinct advantage in getting elected, directly limiting the other party’s chances at the polls. It is a political act that is as old as the American Republic, drawing its name as a “gerrymander” from a member of the Founding generation, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, for his infamous state senate districting map so misshapen that it resembled an awkward salamander. In its modern form, it is sometimes blamed for the deep partisan polarization of Congress and other legislative bodies, because modern computer science and detailed census data makes it so much easier for those in charge of drawing new maps to place individual voters into districts to make them decidedly Republican or Democratic so as to achieve unequal electoral power.
Maryland: Supreme Court picks up gerrymander case with potential implications for Maryland | Baltimore Sun
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a major challenge to partisan gerrymandering in a case that could have implications for Maryland, where the state’s contorted congressional maps are being contested in a separate but similar federal case. The challenge to the Wisconsin legislative map, to be heard by the high court in the fall, could yield one of the most important rulings on political power in decades. The separate Maryland case is pending before a three-judge federal court.
The US supreme court on Monday agreed to decide whether electoral maps drawn deliberately to favor a particular political party are acceptable under the constitution, in a case that could have huge consequences for future US elections. The justices will take up Wisconsin’s appeal of a lower court ruling that said state Republican lawmakers had violated the constitution when they created legislative districts with the aim of hobbling Democrats. The case will be one of the biggest heard in the supreme court term that begins in October. Last November, federal judges in Madison ruled 2-1 that the Republican-led Wisconsin legislature’s redrawing of legislative districts in 2011 amounted to “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander”, a manipulation of electoral boundaries for unfair political advantage. The judges said the redrawing violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law and free speech by undercutting the ability of Democratic voters to turn their votes into seats in the Wisconsin state legislature.
On Monday morning, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Gill v. Whitford, a blockbuster case that could curb partisan gerrymandering throughout the United States. Shortly thereafter, the justices handed down two excellent decisions bolstering the First Amendment’s free speech protections for sex offenders and derogatory trademarks. While the link between these two rulings and Whitford isn’t obvious at first glance, it seems possible that both decisions could strengthen the gerrymandering plaintiffs’ central argument—and help to end extreme partisan redistricting for good.
In an era of deep partisan division, the Supreme Court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political. A dispute over Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn boundaries for the state legislature offers Democrats some hope of cutting into GOP electoral majorities across the United States. Election law experts say the case is the best chance yet for the high court to put limits on what lawmakers may do to gain a partisan advantage in creating political district maps. The justices could say as early as Monday whether they will intervene. The Constitution requires states to redo their political maps to reflect population changes identified in the once-a-decade census. The issue of gerrymandering — creating districts that often are oddly shaped and with the aim of benefiting one party — is centuries old. The term comes from a Massachusetts state Senate district that resembled a salamander and was approved in 1812 by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry.
Wisconsin: In gerrymandering case, Wisconsin awaits word from high court on map that entrenched GOP’s legislative power | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The U.S. Supreme Court could announce as soon as Monday how it’s handling a landmark legal fight over Wisconsin’s gerrymandered political map, which has helped lock in legislative majorities for the GOP since it took power in 2011. The key legal question: Can a set of political districts be so stacked toward one party that it violates the Constitution? Until the court speaks, that is unsettled law. But while the law is uncertain, the politics are quite clear. Legislative boundaries like Wisconsin’s present a stark civics question: How meaningful are elections when control of the legislature in a competitive state is largely predetermined by the way the districts are drawn?
Pennsylvania: Groups sue Pennsylvania over congressional district gerrymandering | Philadelphia Inquirer
Calling gerrymandering “one of the greatest threats to American democracy,” the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania sued Thursday to have the state’s congressional district map thrown out. Future maps, the suit urges, should be drawn without “burdening or penalizing an identifiable group, a political party, or individual voters based on their political beliefs.” Filed in Commonwealth Court on behalf of Democratic voters in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts, the complaint argues that the map, drafted in 2011, “was the product of a national movement by the Republican Party to entrench its own representatives in power.” The GOP did so, the suit argues, by “utilizing the latest advances in mapmaking technologies and big data to gerrymander districts more effectively than ever before.”
Wisconsin: Supreme Court could tackle partisan gerrymandering in watershed case | The Washington Post
With newly elected Scott Walker in the governor’s office and a firm grip on the legislature, Wisconsin Republicans in 2011 had a unique opportunity to redraw the state’s electoral maps and fortify their party’s future. Aides were dispatched to a private law firm to keep their work out of public view. They employed the most precise technology available to dissect new U.S. Census data and convert it into reliably Republican districts even if the party’s fortunes soured. Democrats were kept in the dark, and even GOP incumbents had to sign confidentiality agreements before their revamped districts were revealed to them. Only a handful of people saw the entire map until it was unveiled and quickly approved. In the following year’s elections, when Republicans got just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, they still captured a 60-to-39 seat advantage in the State Assembly. Now, the Supreme Court is being asked to uphold a lower court’s finding that the Wisconsin redistricting effort was more than just extraordinary — it was unconstitutional.
Leaning back in his chair, Jonathan Mattingly swings his legs up onto his desk, presses a key on his laptop and changes the results of the 2012 elections in North Carolina. On the screen, flickering lines and dots outline a map of the state’s 13 congressional districts, each of which chooses one person to send to the US House of Representatives. By tweaking the borders of those election districts, but not changing a single vote, Mattingly’s maps show candidates from the Democratic Party winning six, seven or even eight seats in the race. In reality, they won only four — despite earning a majority of votes overall. Mattingly’s election simulations can’t rewrite history, but he hopes they will help to support democracy in the future — in his state and the nation as a whole. The mathematician, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has designed an algorithm that pumps out random alternative versions of the state’s election maps — he’s created more than 24,000 so far — as part of an attempt to quantify the extent and impact of gerrymandering: when voting districts are drawn to favour or disfavour certain candidates or political parties.