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The State of Redistricting Litigation

A roundup of where key redistricting cases across the country stand.

Last Updated: August 21, 2020
Published: February 10, 2020

Combined Gerrymandering Theories, Voting Rights Act Claims, and Prison Gerrymandering Claims

Mississippi

Thomas v. Reeves

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 took place on January 22, 2020.

On June 19, 2020, the en banc Court of Appeals unanimously declared the issue moot, vacated the lower court’s opinion, dismissed the appeal, and instructed the lower court to dismiss the case. 

Key filings for Thomas v. Reeves can be found here.

Louisiana

Johnson v. Ardoin

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 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. Reeves. 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.

Pennsylvania

Holbrook v. Pennsylvania

Four Pennsylvania voters, along with several organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania contending that Pennsylvania’s current state legislative maps are unconstitutional because of unlawful prison gerrymandering. Lawmakers apportioned the maps in question by counting people who are incarcerated as residents of their correctional facilities. Plaintiffs argue that this practice violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Free and Equal Elections Clause and Equal Population Requirement for General Assembly Districts, as well as the state’s statutory rule providing that no incarcerated individuals shall be deemed residents of their correctional facilities for the purposes of voter registration and voting.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to declare the current legislative maps unconstitutional and block the state from approving any future maps that count people who are incarcerated at correctional facilities, rather than their pre-incarceration addresses or last known addresses.

Key filings for Holbrook v. Pennsylvania can be found here.

Challenges to Redistricting Reforms

Michigan

Daunt v. Benson

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 took place via telephone on March 17, 2020. On April 15, 2020, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to deny the motions for preliminary injunctions. 

On May 13, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a petition with the Sixth Circuit for rehearing en banc. On June 19, 2020, the Sixth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request for a rehearing.

Update: On July 6, 2020, the district court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the case. On August 3, 2020, the Daunt plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Key filings for Daunt v. Benson can be found here

Michigan Republican Party v. Benson

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. 

On February 10, the Brennan Center for Justice filed an amicus brief in support of Michigan Secretary of State Benson, arguing that the commission’s rules safeguard the state’s compelling interest in preventing single-party control over the redistricting process.

Oral argument took place via telephone on March 17, 2020.  On April 15, 2020, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to deny the motions for preliminary injunctions. 

On May 13, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a petition with the Sixth Circuit for rehearing en banc. On June 19, 2020, the Sixth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request for a rehearing.

Update: On July 6, 2020, the district court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the case. On August 3, 2020, the Daunt plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Key filings for Michigan Republican Party v. Benson can be found here.

Nevada

Jackson v. Fair Maps Nevada

On February 12, 2020, a Nevada voter appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court a state court order that rewrote the gist of Fair Maps Nevada’s redistricting reform ballot initiative. Although the plaintiff had sought and won a challenge to the validity of the initiative’s gist, he alleges that the state court lacked the authority rewrite the gist.

Fair Maps Nevada filed a motion to dismiss and for sanctions on February 18 and, on February 21, a cross-appeal of the same state court order that the voter has appealed. Both parties filed motions to expedite proceedings.

On March 26, 2020, the Supreme Court denied the motion to dismiss and for sanctions.

Update: On July 24, 2020, the Supreme Court issued an order affirming the judgment of the district court. The Supreme Court also dismissed the cross-appeal by Fair Maps Nevada as moot. 

Key pleadings in Jackson v. Fair Maps Nevada can be found here.

Missouri

Pippens v. Ashcroft

On May 18, 2020, eight Missouri citizens filed a petition with the Circuit Court of Cole County challenging the summary statement of a proposed constitutional amendment passed by the state legislature, Senate Joint Resolution 38. The proposed amendment, which is slated to appear on the November 2020 ballot, would undermine key provisions of the redistricting reform passed by citizen initiative in 2018. Plaintiffs argue that the summary statement accompanying the proposed amendment violates state law because it insufficiently and unfairly describes the constitutional changes that would take place should S.J.R. 38 be approved by voters. The plaintiffs have asked the court to block the use of the current summary statement. They have also asked the court to either order the General Assembly enact a new summary that complies with state law or order the use of the summary provided by plaintiffs.

Update: Oral argument took place on August 7, 2020. On August 17, the Circuit Court of Cole County ruled in favor of the plaintiffs finding that the ballot summary was unfair, insufficient, and in violation of Missouri law. The court ordered that plaintiffs’ proposed revisions to the summary statement be adopted by the Secretary of State and appear on the ballot in November 2020.

On August 18, 2020, the defendants appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District. The appellants and respondents filed a joint motion to expedite the case, which was granted.

Key pleadings for Pippens v. Ashcroft can be found here.