Redistricting Round-Up: Fall Flurries with Redistricting Litigation

September 28, 2016

Illinois Supreme Court Kicks Redistricting Reform Off Ballot

On September 13, the Illinois Supreme Court denied a request to reconsider its 4-3 decision removing a redistricting reform proposal from the November ballot. The constitutional amendment, proposed by a coalition of reform and civic groups, would have created an 11-member independent commission to draw the state’s legislative districts starting in 2021.

The court ruled that the group’s proposal was unconstitutional under Illinois’s state constitution. In its decision, the majority held that the plan to turn over the legislative reapportionment to a group composed of mostly non-lawmakers was improper because some of the power to select members of the commission  would be given to the state’s auditor general , thus exceeding the permitted scope of initiatives under the state constitution. This is the second election cycle in a row in Illinois that a redistricting proposal with a broad-based citizen effort was thrown out for technical reasons.

A Victory in Maryland in the Battle Against Partisan Gerrymandering

Challengers to Maryland’s 2011 congressional map won a significant victory at the end of August when the three-judge panel in Shapiro v. McManus voted 2-1 to deny the state’s motion to dismiss their  complaint. The plaintiffs allege that the General Assembly’s congressional map unconstitutionally targeted Republicans in Maryland’s Sixth District.

The ruling established a three-part test for a claim of First Amendment partisan gerrymandering, requiring plaintiffs to show that the mapmakers intentionally targeted a group of voters because of their political affiliation (intent), that they drew the map in a way that flipped the district or caused other harm (injury), and that the injury would not have occurred absent this retaliation (causation). The panel decided the allegations of the plaintiffs’ complaint were sufficient enough to proceed to a trial.  

As the Brennan Center’s Thomas Wolf explained, the case could provide the U.S. Supreme Court with an opportunity to address the practicality of partisan gerrymandering claims brought under the First Amendment. The Maryland decision is the second case, after Whitford v. Nichol in Wisconsin, where a partisan gerrymandering case has survived efforts to have it dismissed early in proceedings.

SCOTUS Could Hear Partisan Gerrymandering Case from North Carolina

The U.S. Supreme Court could take up a claim of partisan gerrymandering this coming term in Harris v. McCrory, a challenge to the remedial congressional map adopted by the North Carolina legislature in February 2016.

After a three-judge panel struck down the state’s original congressional map as a racial gerrymander, the North Carolina legislature held an emergency session to draw a remedial plan. Republican legislators openly acknowledged that the new plan was drawn with the aim of preserving the state’s existing partisan balance of 10 Republican and three Democratic seats. Although the panel denied the plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering objections this summer, the challengers have asked the Supreme Court to step in. The Court is expected to decide if it will hear the case sometime this fall or winter.

Other News and Analysis

  • If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, some believe it could generate enough down-ballot Democratic momentum to win the House. But that would require Democrats to win all of the likely, lean, and tossup races this election cycle, writes Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Most of the potential Democratic gains can be attributed to redistricting. New maps drawn in states such as Florida and Virginia should allow Democrats some advantage in a handful of seats.  
  • The increasing political power of the growing Latino population could significantly change how districts are drawn after the 2020 census. Pew Research Center has a new interactive map of the Latino electorate that displays how the share of Latino voters varies by state and congressional district.  
  • In June, the Census Bureau announced preliminary plans to continue counting incarcerated people as residents of their prison, not home, addresses in the 2020 Census and asked for comments on the proposed decision. The public comment period for the proposal closed on September 1, and a final decision is expected by the end of the year. A sample of the public comments is now available.  
  •  Voters who successfully sued to strike down almost 30 North Carolina General Assembly districts in Convington v. North Carolina want special legislative elections in 2017 drawn under new maps by this January. After a three-judge panel determined the current districts were illegal racial gerrymanders last month, the plaintiffs asked the federal court that the legislature hold a special election next year. The court decided it was too late to redraw boundaries before the 2016 election. The next legislative election will take place in 2018.   
  • An appeals court struck down a district court ruling that the city of Cranston’s 2014 redistricting plan for the City Council and School Committee was illegal because it counted all inmates at state prisons as residents of a single voting ward. The panel ruled that the district court’s decision be reversed and directed a verdict in favor of the city.  
  • Public testimony provided the Indiana Special Interim Committee on Redistricting with recommendations on how to structure an independent commission for redistricting legislative and congressional lines. Details such as how many members would serve on the commission, who would appoint the members, if lawmakers would have any authority in passing the maps, and the criteria allowed in the process of mapmaking were discussed. The study committee is expected to release its findings by December 1. 
  • Chapman University law professor Hugh Hewitt worries that a liberal-leaning Supreme Court under presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would likely maneuver the rules of redistricting to benefit Democratic candidates. 
  • Two researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Wendy K. Tam Cho and Yan Y. Liu, who won first place at the Common Cause 2016 First Amendment Standard Gerrymander Writing Competition, used a Blue Water supercomputer to assess how much unfairness is in a map.
  • New research from three professors at the University of Florida suggests that redistricting precinct boundaries and shifting Election Day polling locations can decrease voter turnout.