Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party, and a group of voters filed a lawsuit on November 13, 2018, in North Carolina Superior Court, challenging the state's legislative maps on partisan gerrymandering grounds. The legislature drew these maps in 2017 after the federal courts—in Covington v. North Carolina—threw out the prior plans for racial gerrymandering. According to the plaintiffs, the Republican legislative leadership created the 2017 plans to entrench lasting Republican majorities. The plaintiffs contended that the new plans violate several provisions of North Carolina’s constitution: the Equal Protection Clause; the Free Elections Clause; and the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly Clauses.
The plaintiffs asked the court to declare the maps unconstitutional under the North Carolina Constitution and to block the state from using the current maps in any further elections. The plaintiffs also asked the court to order the state to adopt new plans that comply with the North Carolina Constitution.
On December 14, 2018, the defendants removed the case from state court to a federal district court. On January 2, 2019, the district court ordered the case be sent back to the state court but denied the plaintiffs fees, a decision both parties appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Trial in state court took place from July 15 to 26.
On September 3, 2019, the state court struck down the maps as unconstitutional and enjoined their use in future elections. The court ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw the maps by September 19. On October 28, the court approved the remedial maps drawn by the General Assembly. On November 1, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a request for expedited appeal with the North Carolina Supreme Court, arguing that two county groupings in the remedial state house plan approved by the Wake County Superior Court remained gerrymandered. On November 15, the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to expedite. The plaintiffs then dropped their appeal. The remedial maps will now govern the 2020 elections.
On November 18, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a motion with the Fourth Circuit to dismiss the defendant’s appeal in light of the state court’s ruling. The Fourth Circuit will hold oral argument on this motion and the pending appeals on January 31, 2020.
A single judge was appointed to oversee remaining disputes over the confidentiality of the files of Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting consultant who assisted the 2017 gerrymander. On November 4, over 100,000 files pertaining to Hofeller’s redistricting work in states across the country were released from a protective order.
Key filings for Common Cause v. Lewis can be found here.
Combined Gerrymandering Theories, Voting Rights Act Claims, and Prison Gerrymandering Claims
Individual African-American voters in Georgia contend that the state’s 2011 congressional plan violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The suit argues that instead of creating an additional majority-minority district in response to the significant minority population growth between 2000-2010, the legislature cracked “politically cohesive and geographically compact” African-American communities in and around the Twelfth Congressional District to minimize their political influence. In doing so, the plaintiffs allege, the map dilutes African-American voting strength and has the effect of denying African Americans the equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the plan violates section 2 of the VRA, enjoin the state from using the map for future elections, and order the state to adopt a new plan that complies with section 2 of the VRA, including creation of a district in southeastern Georgia where African Americans have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.
Key filings for Dwight v. Raffensperger can be found here.
Eight Alabama voters filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Alabama’s 2011 congressional map violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The plaintiffs argue the map packs African-American voters into the Seventh Congressional District and significantly cracks African-American voters between three other congressional districts, with the effect of diluting African-American voting. The suit alleges that the African-American population in the three “cracked” congressional districts is sufficient to form a second majority-minority district.
The plaintiffs have asked the court to declare that the map violates section 2 of the VRA and enjoin the state from using the current map in any further congressional elections. The plaintiffs have also asked the court to require the state to adopt a new congressional plan that includes a second majority-minority district.
On March 27, 2019, the court ruled that the plaintiffs would no longer be able to seek to enjoin the current map or to have a new map adopted. The plaintiffs will still be able to seek a declaration that the map violates Section 2 of the VRA.
Trial took place from November 4 to 8, 2019.
Key filings for Chestnut v. Merrill can be found here.
Thomas v. Reeves (formerly captioned Thomas v. Bryant)
Three African-American voters from Mississippi State Senate District 22 filed a federal lawsuit challenging the district under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs alleged that the district dilutes the votes of African Americans and prevents them from electing their candidate of choice. The plaintiffs also claimed that District 22 could be redrawn to increase the black voting age population from 50.8% to 60%, which would permit them to elect a preferred candidate.
On February 13, 2019, the court concluded District 22 violated Section 2. The legislature then redrew the district. On August 1, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling and approved the use of the legislature’s redrawn district for future elections.
The defendants requested a rehearing en banc, and on September 23, the Court of Appeals granted the rehearing. Oral argument is set for January 22, 2020.
Key filings for Thomas v. Reeves can be found here.
Nine African-American voters in Louisiana are challenging the state’s 2011 congressional plan as a violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Plaintiffs allege that the legislature packed African-American voters into the Second Congressional District and split African-American voters among three other congressional districts, rather than unifying them to create a second majority-minority district, thereby having the effect of diluting their voting strength and political influence.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the map violates section 2 of the VRA and enjoin the state from using the current map in any further congressional elections. The plaintiffs are also asking the court to require the state to adopt a new congressional plan that includes a second majority-minority district.
The court denied two motions to dismiss filed by the Secretary of State: the first on March 12; the second on May 31.
On October 17, the court granted the defendant’s motion to stay proceedings pending the resolution of the Fifth Circuit’s review in Thomas v. Bryant. On October 7, the defendant filed a third-party complaint against U.S. Attorney General William Bar and the U.S. Department of Justice asking the court to either dismiss the case or issue a declaration that the Department of Justice erred in its preclearance review of the 2011 plan. On December 9, 2019, Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the third-party complaint.
Key filings for Johnson v. Ardoin can be found here.
The NAACP, along with the NAACP Connecticut State Conference and five Connecticut NAACP members, is challenging Connecticut’s 2011 state legislative maps because of unconstitutional prison gerrymandering. The plaintiffs claim that counting prisoners as residents of their prisons as opposed to their last known home addresses violates the “one person, one vote” principle.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the map violates the Fourteenth Amendment and enjoin the state from using the current map in any further state legislative elections. The plaintiffs are also asking the court to require that the state adopt a new plan that complies with the Constitution.
On February 15, 2019, the court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss. On March 7, 2019, the defendants appealed the decision and requested a stay pending that appeal.
On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s Eleventh Amendment ruling and remanded the case with instructions to the district court to refer future proceedings to a three-judge panel.
The three-judge panel set a briefing schedule for the remaining proceedings, with oral argument on cross motions for summary judgment set for June 16, 2020.
Key filings for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Merrill can be found here.
Challenges to Redistricting Commissions
On July 30, 2019, 15 individuals filed a federal lawsuit challenging the eligibility requirements for the state’s independent redistricting commission under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs, who each fall into one or more of the eight categories of people excluded by law from serving on the commission, argue that the eligibility requirements require them to refrain from constitutionally protected activities, in violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech and association. Plaintiffs also claim that the eligibility requirements violate their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment because, among other things, the requirements deny them an opportunity to serve on the commission as a result of their political activity.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the commission unconstitutional and block the Michigan Secretary of State from moving forward with the commissioner selection process.
On July 30, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, requesting the court halt commission-related proceedings while litigation is pending.
On August 28, the court allowed Voters Not Politicians, the group that sponsored the proposal to create the independent redistricting commission, to intervene as defendants.
On September 11, the court granted Michigan Secretary of State Benson’s motion to consolidate the case with Michigan Republican Party v. Benson, another case challenging the constitutionality of the commission.
On November 25, the court denied the plaintiffs' motions for a preliminary injunction. On November 26, the Daunt plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral argument is set for March 17, 2020.
Key filings for Daunt v. Benson can be found here.
On August 22, 2019, the Michigan Republican Party and five individuals who affiliate with the party filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s independent redistricting commission under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs argue that the commission’s rules violate their First Amendment rights to free speech and association, as well as their right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The suit claims multiple aspects of the rules governing the commission are unconstitutional, including the composition of the commission and the eligibility requirements that bar certain people from serving as commissioners. The plaintiffs argue that these rules, among others, discriminate against political parties, as well as against individuals for their partisan affiliations and political activity.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the commission unconstitutional and block the Michigan Secretary of State from enforcing any part of the constitutional amendment through which it was established.
On August 22, the plaintiffs also filed a motion to enjoin commission proceedings pending litigation.
On September 11, this case was consolidated with Daunt v. Benson. On November 25, the court denied the both sets of plaintiffs' motions for preliminary injunctions. On December 9, the Michigan Republican Party plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral argument is set for March 17, 2020.
Key filings for Michigan Republican Party v. Benson can be found here.
On November 15, 2019, two Oklahoma voters filed a protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the legality of Initiative Petition 420, a proposed constitutional amendment that would create an independent redistricting commission to draw congressional and state legislative maps.
Plaintiffs argue that Initiative Petition 420 violates the Oklahoma constitution’s single subject rule. They also claim that the petition’s eligibility requirements for commissioners violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs are asking the court to block the addition of Initiative Petition 420 to a future ballot.
Oral argument is set for January 21, 2020.
Key filings for Gaddis v. Moore can be found here.
On November 15, two Oklahoma voters filed a protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the ballot language of Initiative Petition 420, a proposed constitutional amendment that would create an independent redistricting commission to draw congressional and state legislative maps.
The plaintiffs argue that the ballot language insufficiently describes multiple aspects of the proposal, including the selection of commissioners, the eligibility requirements, the ban on partisan gerrymandering, and the partisan makeup of the commission. As a result, plaintiffs are asking the court to declare Initiative Petition 420 legally deficient.
Oral argument is set for January 21, 2020.
Key filings for Newberry v. Moore can be found here.