After Redistricting, Each Party Has a Path to a House Majority
If victory in congressional redistricting is defined as guaranteeing control of the House, a new Brennan Center analysis by Michael Li and Chris Leaverton finds, “The latest cycle could be considered something of a draw. Under new congressional maps, both Democrats and Republicans have viable paths to a House majority in coming years, though this is in large measure due to fairer maps drawn by commissions or courts rather than line drawing in states where politicians controlled the pen . . . To be sure, Democrats are still likely to lose their House majority in 2022 given this year’s unforgiving midterm dynamics. But if they do, new maps at least give them some reasonable paths to winning it back in future cycles. Likewise, if Republicans do take back the House in 2022, they may well find their new majority uncomfortably tenuous.”
But Li and Leaverton caution, “While neither party is permanently locked out of being able to win a House majority, that doesn’t mean the new maps are fair. On balance, partisan gerrymandering continues to skew maps in favor of Republicans, making the path to a majority harder for Democrats than it would be otherwise. This gerrymandering, moreover, largely comes at the expense of communities of color, especially in the South.”
Supreme Court to Hear Crucial Voting Rights Act Case
On October 4, the future of the Voting Rights Act will be on the line again when the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case about whether Alabama must create a second majority-Black congressional district. Under current maps, Black voters are fractured among multiple districts and have the ability to elect their community’s preferred candidates in only one of seven districts, even though they make up nearly 27 percent of the state’s population. A three-judge panel, including two Trump appointees, unanimously threw out the map, finding that it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. However, Alabama asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the map, arguing that requiring the creation of a second Black district creates unbridgeable tensions with the Constitution’s rules against excessive consideration of race in governmental decision-making.
The Brennan Center and pro bono partners at Debevoise & Plimpton have filed an amicus brief in the case, Merrill v. Milligan, in support of the lower court’s ruling that the map violated Section 2. Specifically, the brief argues that “Section 2 of the VRA places a narrow, but essential, limitation on a mapmaker’s discretion” that judges can use it to strike down plans that were purposefully drawn to take advantage of racially polarized voting and permanently lock minority voters out of power. The brief contends that while a Section 2 remedy is increasingly no longer needed in many parts of the country as barriers to political participation by minority communities decrease, in other places, such as Alabama, it remains a critical — and constitutionally appropriate — safeguard against racial discrimination.
Read the full brief here.
What Justice Alito Got Wrong About Legislative Elections
The Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade reflects not only a radicalized Court but some of the fundamental flaws of our democratic system. While Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion says “women are not without electoral or political power” when it comes to advocating abortion rights through the legislative process, Michael Li and Sonali Seth write that “the reality is that by failing to rein in partisan gerrymandering and consistently gutting voting rights protections, the Supreme Court has rendered that impossible.”
They point to Texas — home to one of the nation’s most aggressive abortion laws — as a prime example. There, legislators “redrew legislative maps during last year’s redistricting to transform a once competitive state legislature into a safely Republican one. Before, Democrats only needed to win a little more than half the vote to be favored to win control of the Texas House. After brazen redrawing of the maps, they now need to win more than 56.2 percent of the vote to be favored to win even a bare majority.” They conclude, “It is now up to voters to fight for reforms — at both the state and federal level — to ensure voters can, in fact, make their voices heard when politicians get it wrong.” The changes between the two sets of Texas maps are vividly illustrated in the chart below.
Map & Litigation Trackers
The Brennan Center has two trackers you can use to keep up with the redistricting cycle: our Redistricting Map Tracker contains links to all of the newly passed maps, while our Redistricting Litigation Roundup outlines the legal cases pending over new plans.
All told, 72 cases around the country have challenged newly passed congressional or legislative maps as racially discriminatory or partisan gerrymanders — or both — as of August 2.
Redistricting in the News
In a 4–3 vote along party lines, the North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to expedite the arguments in a legal case brought by Common Cause challenging congressional and legislative maps put in place by the court earlier this year. Oral arguments are now scheduled for October, a decision the court’s Republican minority argues “reeks of judicial activism,” as the maps would not need to be in place until late 2023, when any challenges would be heard under a new and potentially more conservative court.
In Ohio, every congressional and legislative election this year will take place under maps that have been found to violate anti-gerrymandering provisions added to the state constitution last decade by voters. On July 19, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the revised congressional plan that the state’s Republican-dominated redistricting commission created after the court found that the original map violated partisan fairness provisions in the state constitution. However, because it is too late to change maps for 2022, voters will vote using the struck-down districts for the upcoming midterm elections. Ohioans also will be voting in this year’s elections for the state legislature using maps struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court but controversially reinstated by a federal court as a temporary measure for the 2022 elections.
Three Black voters in Missouri have filed a lawsuit claiming that the state senate map drawn by a panel of state judges discriminates against Black voters and unnecessarily splits counties between districts. The lawsuit calls for the state court to change five districts and includes an alternative map that the plaintiffs say would keep communities intact while complying with the state constitution.
A group of Florida civil rights organizations are suing the Jacksonville City Council over its redistricting plan. The plaintiffs allege that councilors used race as the primary factor when deciding district boundaries. City councilors argue that the districts were drawn with an interest in largely maintaining the status quo, but one analysis found that decade after decade, the city council passed maps that packed Black voters into relatively few districts under a false assumption that a district’s population had to be at least 60 percent Black to be considered an opportunity district.
In New York, activists and residents lambasted the Buffalo Common Council after it unanimously approved council districts that they claim entrench white incumbents and disempower the city’s Black and Latino voters. Meanwhile, in New York City, the commission tasked with drawing city council districts is conducting a series of public input sessions over its proposed city council map, which was praised for including a majority-Asian district in Brooklyn but criticized by some residents and elected officials for breaking up Black and Latino communities in South Brooklyn and Queens.
In the ongoing litigation over Texas’s congressional and legislative maps, a panel of federal judges ordered that the legislators defending the maps must produce messages, talking points, and other documents related to their redistricting deliberations. A coalition of civil rights groups and individual Black, Latino, and Asian voters brought the suit, arguing that the maps dilute the voting power of communities of color. Read more about the Brennan Center’s work advocating for fair maps in Texas.
You can find earlier editions of our Redistricting Roundup here.