Good News For Democrats In The Redistricting Front– Courts Caught GOP Cheating

Late yesterday, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the legislative and congressional maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The maps violate voters’ fundamental rights to have their votes meaningfully count. Josh Stein, North Carolina’s Attorney General was practically dancing for joy… at least on Twitter:

Governor Roy Cooper also tweeted: “A healthy democracy requires free elections and the NC Supreme Court is right to order a redraw of unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts. More work remains and any legislative redraw must reflect the full intent of this decision.” Cooper noted in his amici’s brief that “The trial court recognized what has been obvious all along, that the legislative and congressional maps were intentionally gerrymandered. That’s wrong and unconstitutional because it strips voters of their voice and power in our democracy.”

“The ruling,” reported the Raleigh News & Observer, “divided the court along party lines. All three Republican justices dissented and said they would have allowed the maps to stand. But all four Democratic justices joined in the majority opinion, which struck down the maps for both the N.C. General Assembly and North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The justices ruled that the maps were skewed so far to the right that they violated the state constitution– specifically that they ‘are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt under the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause and the freedom of assembly clause of North Carolina’s constitution.’… If the maps had stood around one-fourth of the Black lawmakers in the state legislature would have been at risk of losing their seats in this year’s elections.”

The state’s primaries had already been postponed until May. Former state senator Erica Smith, a candidate for Congress in one of the newly gerrymandered districts, told me last night that “North Carolinians deserve fair and free elections. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for Democracy and a victory for our state. The GOP was trying to silence the voices of Black and Brown communities in an effort to consolidate power. They drew lines that would’ve essentially allowed representatives to pick their constituents instead of voters picking their representatives. I’m committed to fighting to ensure that every North Carolinian, regardless of race or gender or religion has a seat at the table and is represented in Washington DC. Today’s ruling is a step in that direction but still, so much work needs to be done to ensure true representation for North Carolina.” Click on that photo of her up top.

Among the states whose congressional maps are done and final, most have no significant partisan change. The ones that do are Arizona (a small boost for the GOP), California (a significant boost for the Democrats), Georgia (a small boost for the GOP), Illinois (a significant boost for the Dems), Maryland (a small boost for the Dems), Montana (a probable boost for the GOP), New Mexico (a small boost for the Dems), Oklahoma (a small boost for the GOP), and Texas (a large boost for the GOP). So far there are 129 seats that went strongly for Biden, 104 seats that went strongly for Trump and 40 competitive seats)– with 162 seats still in process. Aside from North Carolina, judges in Ohio, Louisiana, Alabama, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and a couple of other states have also caught the Republicans cheating and are taking action to redraw the maps.

[F]ederal judges last month struck down Alabama’s congressional lines and ordered Republican lawmakers to craft a new map that includes two heavily Black districts instead of one. The case, one of many where the National Democratic Redistricting Committee has gotten involved, is a significant decision that could pave the way for more Democratic seats in other southern states.

…Democrats notched a huge win this week in Pennsylvania when the state Supreme Court agreed to take control of the fraught congressional redistricting process there, which had been in the hands of a pro-Trump lower court judge.

Pennsylvania and its 17 congressional districts will be pivotal in determining the House majority in 2022. And the court was always set to play an outsize role in the remap because the Republican-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf were likely to reach an impasse. But Democrats panicked when their liberal-leaning state Supreme Court declined to claim jurisdiction over the case last month. Their allies quickly asked the court to reconsider.

“We’re all waiting and waiting. I’m refreshing my screen, trying not to crash the court website,” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) said Wednesday, less than an hour before the justices announced they would take over the case.

“Our state legislature is useless because they have failed to do their job the last two cycles, which is to draw a fair and constitutional map,” she said. “This time they just punted.”

The liberal-leaning state Supreme Court helped Democrats claim the gavel in 2018 when it ruled the GOP-drawn congressional map was an illegal partisan gerrymander, ordering a redraw that saw the delegation shift from a 13-5 Republican advantage to an even split. Democrats were counting on that backstop again.

…In Ohio, the state Supreme Court, narrowly controlled by a GOP majority, struck down the congressional map in mid-January, giving the Republican legislature a month to alter its plan. If they miss that deadline, a bipartisan commission will get a chance at the lines.

In an 82-page ruling, the justices said that mapmakers unduly split Summit, Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties– home to Akron, Cleveland and Cincinnati, respectively. The chief justice, Maureen O’Connor, a moderate Republican, sided with three Democrats, all of whom were elected in the last few years. Democrats have made the election of state Supreme Court a top priority recently, with an eye on influencing the 2021 redistricting.

The case in Alabama is likely to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and could have huge national significance, where anything could happen.

While the VRA explicitly states that racial minorities are not automatically entitled to a number of seats proportional to their share of the population, Black people constitute more than 25 percent of Alabama’s VAP, much larger than the share of congressional districts they predominate in (14 percent). And many Black votes would have been wasted under the overturned map, with the majority-white 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts all having at least a 24 percent Black VAP.

As a result, the judges gave the Alabama Legislature until Feb. 11 to draw a new map that “include[s] two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.” But by then, it’s possible that the judges’ decision will have been overturned anyway. Alabama has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing that the map should be reinstated because a new one would disrupt preparations for the state’s upcoming primary and improperly prioritize race in redistricting. 

The high court has yet to signal what it will do with the appeal. But the possibilities run a wide gamut: The case could lead to a very favorable outcome for liberals, a very favorable outcome for conservatives or anything in between.

On one end of the spectrum, the Supreme Court could let the lower court’s ruling stand, which would have the immediate impact of adding a new Black-opportunity congressional seat in Alabama. (In practice, this would also add one Democrat and subtract one Republican from Alabama’s congressional delegation.) It would also have ripple effects throughout the Deep South. If this ruling stands, it could inspire courts to create additional Black-opportunity districts in Louisiana and maybe South Carolina as well.

Currently, only one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts is predominantly Black, despite the state having one of the country’s largest Black population shares: more than 30 percent of the VAP. With the state’s redistricting process just getting underway this week, Democrats have already proposed multiple congressional maps that would add a majority-Black seat along the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge. For example, under Senate Bill 4, the 2nd District would have a VAP that’s 51.5 percent Black and the 5th District would have a VAP that’s 50.5 percent Black.

Because Republicans control the Louisiana Legislature (and these maps would eliminate a Republican member of Congress), they may not be inclined to pass any of these maps. But Gov. John Bel Edwards is a Democrat, and he’s already come out in favor of a second predominantly Black district. Republicans also lack the numbers in the state House to override a potential veto (although they’d only need to convince two independents or conservative Democrats to side with them to do so). That means Louisiana redistricting will probably be decided by the local courts, which would likely follow the Supreme Court’s lead and greenlight a second Black-opportunity district — if that’s what the high court decides to do in Alabama.

Meanwhile, South Carolina has already enacted a new congressional map with only one predominantly Black district out of seven, despite the fact that the Palmetto State is almost one-quarter Black by VAP. However, simple geography may make it harder to convince a court to order a redraw here. While it’s possible to draw two congressional districts for South Carolina with VAPs that are around 40 percent Black, it’s difficult to draw two majority-Black districts without some serious contortions.


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