Michigan legislators cannot write rules for an independent restricting commission without violating the constitutional amendment approved by voters last month, organizers of the ballot initiative argued Tuesday. A Republican proposal advanced by the Senate Government Operations Committee is unconstitutional and a “direct attack on the will of the voters,” said Nancy Wang, president of the Voters Not Politicians committee. The more than 2.5 million voters who approved the anti-gerrymandering measure “took the extraordinary step of amending our state constitution specifically to take politicians out of the redistricting process — period,” Wang told lawmakers.
In a win for a group of Democratic voters, a three-judge panel ruled Monday that the former chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee must turn over emails and other documents about the 2011 redistricting of Ohio’s legislative maps. In May, a coalition of Democratic voters and groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, sued Governor John Kasich and other Republican lawmakers in Cincinnati federal court. They urged the court to enjoin a redistricting statute that the GOP used to redraw maps, arguing it gave an unfair advantage to Republicans at the expense of Democratic voters. The Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, an advocacy group for black trade unionists, and its co-plaintiffs claim the Republican State Leadership Committee sought to control the redistricting process to “solidify conservative policymaking at the state level, and to maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.”
Though the new state legislative session hasn’t technically started, lawmakers are already filing memos for the bills they plan to sponsor. One of the first issues on the agenda has already commanded lawmakers’ attention for nearly a year: redistricting. Last winter, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled the state’s congressional map unfairly benefited Republicans and redrew it. The move inflamed a debate that had smoldered for a long time: that the map-drawing process has to be less political. The commonwealth’s congressional maps are passed through state legislation. State House and Senate maps are drawn by a five-member commission, of which four members are elected officials.
It turns out the nearly decade-long fight over Texas’ legislative districts didn’t actually end with the Supreme Court’s ruling against the plaintiffs in June. Late Friday afternoon, the coalition of voting rights groups that have fought the state for fairer legislative districts since the last round of redistricting in 2010 filed a pair of new briefs with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. They seek to have the state forced back into federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. States subject to the VRA’s preclearance provision must seek and receive federal approval for any changes they make to any law that applies to voting. Texas has been free from the requirement since 2013, when the Supreme Court cleared the list of states subject to preclearance, but could be placed back on the naughty list if federal courts determine that the state is intentionally discriminatory in its voting laws.
A lame duck bill addressing the selection process for the state’s newly adopted citizens redistricting commission has the initiative’s backers crying foul. The proposal by Republican Sen. Phil Pavlov of St. Clair details rules and procedures for the selection of the commission, items already outlined in the Proposal 2’s language and, to some degree, left up to the discretion of incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Another set of bills introduced by GOP Sen. Mike Kowall of White Lake the same day clarify some rules surrounding items approved in Proposal 3, such as same day voter registration and no-reason absentee voting.
Wisconsin Democrats scored a huge win when Tony Evers captured the governor’s office last month. But an even bigger fight is looming as Republican lawmakers prepare to redraw legislative boundaries, stirring fears among Democrats that their rivals could take unprecedented steps to remove Evers from the process. State law requires legislators to redraw the boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes. It’s a high-stakes task since the party in control can craft maps that consolidate their power and lock in their majority for years. The last time lawmakers drew new boundaries was in 2011, when Republicans controlled the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office. A federal judicial panel invalidated the Assembly districts as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in 2016. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that in June and sent the case back to the lower court to establish whether there was harm to particular voters. A new trial is set for April.
North Carolina: Partisan gerrymandering lawsuit calls for new legislative districts for 2020 elections | WRAL
A new gerrymandering lawsuit calls for a court order requiring voting districts for the state House and Senate be redrawn before the 2020 elections. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Wake County by good-government group Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and 22 voters from across the state, follows the path of another Common Cause lawsuit in which federal courts have twice found that Republican lawmakers illegally gerrymandered North Carolina’s congressional districts for partisan advantage. “Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have egregiously rigged the state legislative district lines to guarantee that their party will control both chambers of the General Assembly regardless of how the people of North Carolina vote,” the lawsuit states. “This attack on representative democracy and North Carolinians’ voting rights is wrong. It violates the North Carolina Constitution. And it needs to stop.”
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will review for a second time whether Republican legislators in Virginia drew electoral districts in the state in a way that unlawfully diluted the clout of black voters. The high court will hear an appeal by the Republican-led state House of Delegates of a June ruling by a federal three-judge panel that said the 11 state House districts in question all violated the rights of black voters to equal protection under the law under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Democrats have accused Republicans in Virginia and other states of crafting such legislative maps in a way that crams black and other minority voters into certain districts in order to reduce their overall sway in the state. When the litigation first reached the high court, the justices last year threw out an earlier lower court ruling that had found the 11 districts, as well as one other district, to be lawful. The justices said the lower court had not sufficiently analyzed the consideration of race by the Republican legislators in the process of drawing Virginia’s electoral map.
Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January with big items topping their legislative to-do list: Remove obstacles to voting, close loopholes in government ethics law and reduce the influence of political money. Party leaders say the first legislative vote in the House will come on H.R. 1, a magnum opus of provisions that Democrats believe will strengthen U.S. democratic institutions and traditions. “It’s three very basic things that I think the public wants to see,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who spearheads campaign finance and government ethics efforts for the House Democratic Caucus. He said H.R. 1 will “demonstrate that we hear that message loud and clear.” But even Sarbanes admits the quick vote is just a first step. Republicans, who control the Senate, are unlikely to pass the bill and President Trump is unlikely to sign it. “Give us the gavel in the Senate in 2020 and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” Sarbanes said. “Give us a pen in the Oval Office and we’ll sign those kinds of reforms into law.”
Maryland: Gerrymandering case is back in court where judges floated an independent mapping commission as a fix | The Washington Post
Federal judges in Maryland floated the idea Thursday of taking the state’s congressional voting map out of the hands of political leaders and leaving the drawing of electoral lines to an independent, nonpartisan commission. A three-judge panel pressed the attorney general’s office and Republican voters challenging the electoral map about the possibility of settling their long-running case as it arrived back in court for the first time since the Supreme Court declined to immediately review the matter of redrawn maps. The high court in June avoided answering the question of when extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional in the Maryland case involving a Democratic-drawn map — and in another from Wisconsin involving a Republican-led effort.