Featured Story: Improving the 2030 Census
The census is critical to American democracy. The results of this constitutionally required, once-a-decade count of every person living in the United States dictate how seats in the House of Representatives are divided among the states, how state and local governments draw electoral districts, and how more than $1.5 trillion annually in federal funds is distributed for essential services such as health care, food assistance, and education. Unfortunately, the 2020 census also struggled in multiple ways. A new comprehensive report by the Brennan Center outlines ways that the census can be improved before 2030.
The authors write, “Future censuses are vulnerable to similar or worse outcomes. Executive interference and Covid-19 during the 2020 count both exposed and exacerbated the census’s systemic problems. Existing law leaves too much room for political actors to override the best statistical science and manipulate the census.
The report identifies 19 detailed policy proposals that would make the census “more accurate, equitable, and legitimate.” These recommendations include limiting the number of political appointees at the Census Bureau, overhauling congressional oversight, adding a new question regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and ending prison gerrymandering.
The report concludes, “While civil rights groups, litigators, and others managed to protect the count from absolute disaster, future census efforts may not be so fortunate. With planning for 2030 already underway, Congress must act now to ensure that the census will continue to be a reliable cornerstone of our democracy.”
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 September 14. Of these cases, 42 remain pending at the trial or appellate level.
Redistricting in the News
The three-judge panel in the ongoing litigation over Texas’s new congressional and legislative maps announced that it is postponing the trial that was originally scheduled for September 28 after it became clear that the parties would not have enough time to prepare due to ongoing disputes over access to documents in discovery. The plaintiffs are requesting access to a trove of documents legislators used to draw the new maps, which the lawmakers claim are subject to legislative privilege. The court has not yet set a new trial date. Read a joint advisory from the plaintiffs on the delay and more about the Brennan Center’s work in this case.
It remains unclear as of writing how a court-ordered redrawing of New York’s state assembly map will be implemented. In Albany, a judge dismissed a case brought by a group of New York voters calling for the state’s redistricting commission to reconvene and draw another state assembly map, claiming that the commission’s dysfunction would make a second attempt at map drawing “futile.” The commission’s first map was rejected by the legislature, and it failed to submit another one, allowing the legislature to draw its own plan that was subsequently found unconstitutional. However, in a separate case, a Manhattan judge is considering ordering the commission to draw a new map as a constitutional remedy.
Montana remains the only state that has not finalized new legislative maps for this decade, but the commission has begun soliciting public feedback on two sets of proposals drawn by its Democratic and Republican members. While the commissioners have said that none of the four maps under debate will likely be the final one, some members of the public have expressed concern that the maps proposed by the Republican commissioners do not align with the state’s partisan makeup and unduly favor Republicans. Advocates have also criticized one plan for transforming two districts with a majority Native American population into majority-white ones. The commissioners will hold more public hearings in the fall and send a proposal to the legislature at the beginning of 2023.
Even though Maryland’s Court of Appeals declined to hear a challenge to the state’s new legislative districts last April, the case’s opinion and dissent were not released until last week, revealing that the maps were approved by only one vote. The majority opinion dismissed Republican legislators’ reasoning that the maps were invalid because of oddly shaped districts, saying that the court’s role was “not to determine whether there is another plan, either proposed or that the court can conjure, that would be better.” The three judges dissenting argued that Democratic legislators engineered the map to their advantage and were insufficiently transparent.
Democratic and Republican legislators in Pennsylvania each spent about $1.5 million in legal fees, largely to retain redistricting experts who drafted plans for each party. The state supreme court chose a congressional plan drafted by one of those experts on behalf of a group advocating for redistricting reform and a plaintiff in the case. Litigation over the new legislative maps is still ongoing.
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission unanimously voted to submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Moore v. Harper, a case regarding North Carolina’s new congressional map that the Court will hear later this fall. The argument challenging North Carolina’s map rests on the “independent state legislature theory,” which claims that state legislatures, and not independent commissions like Arizona’s, are the only bodies authorized to draw congressional maps.
You can find earlier editions of our Redistricting Roundup here.