In the 2022 midterms, Republicans eked out the narrowest of House majorities, decided by just a few thousand votes in a handful of districts. In theory, that sets the stage for what could be a rematch in two years’ time. But there’s a big wild card in the mix: in a number of states, the maps used in 2022 may not be the ones used in 2024.
Here’s a look at where and how things could change — for better and worse — before 2024.
Partisan Gerrymandering Challenges
Some of the biggest changes could come in North Carolina and Ohio, two large states with long-running gerrymandering problems. In both, state courts threw out the original legislatively enacted maps as illegal partisan gerrymanders and ordered states to use different maps for the 2022 midterms. However, under the terms of both courts’ orders, maps will need to be redrawn for future election cycles.
While any new maps would need to comply with state anti-gerrymandering laws, state supreme courts in both states became considerably more conservative in the midterm elections. Those changes raise concerns about whether the courts will be as willing as their predecessors to enforce meaningful limits on gerrymandering. If not, both states could see a return to gerrymandered maps that make it harder for Democrats to win back the House majority. Worryingly, North Carolina’s new supreme court has already agreed to hear a case asking it to overturn partisan gerrymandering rulings it issued just last year.
In North Carolina, the temporary map put in place by the state supreme court for 2022 was the fairest in many years, producing an evenly divided 7–7 congressional delegation in line with the state’s electoral battleground status. By contrast, the map originally passed by the North Carolina legislature packed Democrats into districts so aggressively that they had been favored to win only three or four districts.
The replacement congressional map that Ohio voters used in 2022 was not as balanced as North Carolina’s, but it was nonetheless an improvement over the original map adopted by the legislature. While the initial gerrymandered map was designed to hold Democrats to 3 of 15 seats, they were able to win 5 under the slightly improved replacement, the most seats won by the party in Ohio since 2010.
But if maps in North Carolina and Ohio could get worse before 2024, maps in other states potentially could see improvements as a result of pending partisan gerrymandering cases in state courts.
In Florida, a state court will hold trial in August to decide whether the congressional map enacted last year at the urging of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the anti-gerrymandering amendments adopted in 2010 when it eliminated three Democratic districts as well as two swing seats. Last decade, Florida courts gave considerable teeth to the 2010 amendments, ordering a redraw of the congressional map in 2016. With courts having since become more conservative, however, they may prove to be less inclined to stand against gerrymandering this time around. (The Florida case also argues that the congressional map violates prohibitions on racial discrimination in the state constitution.)
State supreme courts in New Mexico, Utah, and Kentucky also have been asked to rule on whether their respective constitutions allow partisan gerrymandering claims. If courts allow the cases to go forward, maps in those states also could change in time for 2024 primaries, depending on how long the litigation and inevitable appeals take.
Racially Discriminatory Maps
A number of changes to maps also could happen as a result of lawsuits challenging racially discriminatory maps in the South.
Before the midterms, federal judges in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana ruled that the Voting Rights Act required each state to create an additional Black congressional district. But the redrawing of the maps is currently on hold while the Supreme Court hears an appeal of the Alabama decision. If the Court adopts a more restrictive interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, as Alabama and conservative states and advocates urge, the lower court rulings could be overturned or effectively rendered moot. And even if the redraws do go forward, there could be further appeals that delay new maps.
In South Carolina, a federal trial court ruled in January that the state’s First Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Nancy Mace, was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and must be redrawn before 2024. However, South Carolina’s appeal of that decision to the Supreme Court could delay the redrawing of the map.
A panel of federal judges also will hold trial sometime this year (no date has been set as of writing) on claims that Texas’s congressional map discriminates against Asian, Black, and Latino voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and South Texas regions. (The Texas case includes claims under the Voting Rights Act as well as the 14th Amendment and could be impacted by the Alabama decision.)
Meanwhile, a federal court in Florida will hold trial in September in a case that alleges that the state’s congressional map is unconstitutional because it intentionally discriminated against Black voters by reducing the number of Black opportunity districts from 4 to 2.
The Unknown of Moore v. Harper
Perhaps the biggest wild card is what the Supreme Court does in Moore v. Harper, a troubling “Hail Mary” case from North Carolina that seeks to impose limits on the power of state courts to police partisan gerrymandering under state law. The justices seemed skeptical of North Carolina’s arguments at oral argument in December, but if the Supreme Court holds that the federal Constitution imposes limits on the ability of state courts to strike down gerrymanders under state law, that could potentially open the door to a redrawing of maps in states where courts intervened in redistricting disputes, such as in New York and Maryland, depending on how broadly the Court sweeps. A ruling in the case is expected sometime before the term ends in June.
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For most Americans, the congressional districts they voted under in 2022 will be the same ones they use in 2024. But changes in a handful of states between now and 2024 could shift the advantage in favor of one party or the other in the battle for a closely divided House. Whether those changes make maps fairer or more gerrymandered remains to be seen.