A Dangerous Alabama Voting Rights Case at the Supreme Court
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[Redistricting Roundup]
The State of Play
As of February 15, 2022, 37 states have passed new congressional maps and 37 states have passed state legislative maps, though in two states, Ohio and North Carolina, courts have ordered that congressional and legislative maps be redrawn.
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, 50 cases around the country are challenging newly passed congressional or legislative maps as racially discriminatory or partisan gerrymanders — or both.
Featured Pieces
A Dangerous Alabama Voting Rights Case at the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear an Alabama redistricting case next term is an ominous sign that the high court could be poised to further weaken what remains of the Voting Rights Act. At issue is Alabama’s new congressional plan, which a lower court found violated the VRA by not including a second Black opportunity district, even though there was ample evidence that one could easily be drawn. Alabama has appealed the decision of the lower court, asking the Supreme Court to radically rewrite legal standards governing when and how race is considered in redistricting. As Michael Li explains, “A win for Alabama would cripple the ability of communities of color to win relief under the Voting Rights Act. States’ existing ‘race neutral’ rules would trump all else and could never be violated when complying with the law. Incumbency protection, preserving political boundaries set in stone a century or more ago, strict rules on compactness — all would take priority over minority representation. Worse, states could adopt any number of facially neutral redistricting rules engineered in reality to make it all but impossible to draw minority districts. It, in short, would be the end of the VRA as we know it, effectively subordinating federal law to state law.”
Third Time’s the Charm in Ohio?
The Ohio Supreme Court has ordered the state’s redistricting commission, which consists entirely of elected officials, to convene for a third time to adopt legislative districts after the court said that the plans the commission resubmitted to the court still did not meet the state constitution’s partisan fairness provisions. The commission now has until February 17 to draw a third set of plans. The Brennan Center’s Alicia Bannon said, “The court has spoken, twice. The Ohio Redistricting Commission has a duty to follow the state constitution and produce fair maps that serve Ohio’s voters, regardless of party.” Read more about the Brennan Center’s participation in the fight for fair maps in Ohio here.
Featured Maps
Navajo Nation confronts discriminatory local maps in New Mexico
The Navajo Nation has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the San Juan County Board of Commissioners in New Mexico for enacting a redistricting plan they say purposefully packs Native voters into one commission district. The aim of the map, the plaintiffs say, is to ensure that white voters can control the election outcomes in the four other districts despite only being 40 percent of the population.
Source: Compl. at 19, Navajo Nation v. San Juan County, 1:22-cv-00095, D.N.M. (February 10, 2022).
Plaintiffs point to a plan created by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (left), which would have included two districts each with about a 63 percent Native American voting age population, and a third with a significant Native American voting age population. Instead, the San Juan County Commission voted to adopt a plan (right) which contains one heavily packed commission district that has an 83 percent Native American voting age population, diminishing the Native American voting age population in the other districts.
Redistricting in the News
After striking down the state’s congressional and legislative maps last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court has released its full opinion, finding that the enacted plans violated the state constitution and that the courts did indeed have the right to review the plans submitted by the state legislature. Legislators now have until Friday, February 18, to redraw plans and submit them for judicial review.
In Pennsylvania, a new lawsuit brought by Republican voters argues that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not have the power under the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause to enact a congressional map in the event of deadlock between the governor and the legislature. Instead, plaintiffs contend that such a deadlock would require at-large elections for all of the state’s congressional districts. Justice Samuel Alito summarily dismissed a similar argument in 2018 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the state’s then congressional map redrawn.
Kansas voters represented by the ACLU and the Campaign Legal Center filed a state-court lawsuit alleging that Kansas’s new congressional plan dilutes the voting power of nonwhite Kansans. The plan, which was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly (D) before the legislature overrode her, would split up Wyandotte County, the state's most diverse county. The voters bringing the lawsuit allege that the only reason to separate Wyandotte County, which contains the Kansas City metro area, is “to have a racial and partisan gerrymander.”
The Florida Supreme Court declined to issue an advisory opinion on whether the racial fairness provisions in the Florida constitution mandated preserving the 5th Congressional District, a district with a plurality Black population connecting Tallahassee and Jacksonville. The decision is a blow to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has made clear his desire to break up FL-5, even though plans supported by Republican legislators would keep the district intact.
Republican voters have brought a lawsuit in state court over New York’s new congressional and state senate plans, claiming that the legislature ignored the proposals of the state’s redistricting commission and rushed through a plan they say packs Republican voters into few districts to dilute their influence. Hearings on the suit will be heard in Steuben County on March 3.
Battles over local redistricting have deepened in the Georgia legislature, as Republicans vote to overrule a growing number of county and school board plans drawn by local officials. Georgia’s legislature is one of a few state legislatures that have oversight over local redistricting. Though the legislature has usually deferred to local officials’ plans, some Black legislators allege that recent legislative overrides of local plans are attempts to skirt around the Voting Rights Act and override the will of local Black officials.
Republicans in the Missouri Senate have failed thus far to agree on a path forward in congressional redistricting, after several legislators have filibustered the plan passed by the Missouri House, which would have kept two Democratic-leaning congressional districts, rather than only one. Conservative Republican senators have pointed to Democratic gerrymanders in states like New York as a reason to draw a map with seven districts that lean Republican.
The South Carolina chapter of the NAACP has added several congressional districts to its ongoing lawsuit over the state’s legislative maps. The lawsuit alleges that Black voters were packed into one district, SC-6, to minimize their influence and that the chosen plan represented “perhaps the worst option of the available maps in terms of its harmful impact on Black voters.”
California’s congressional and legislative maps will not be challenged in state court after no litigation was filed within the 45-day deadline for bringing such challenges under state law. While the maps may still be overturned via referendum or challenged by a federal voting rights lawsuit, both are seen as unlikely. The lack of lawsuits in California contrasts with the ongoing litigation over redistricting plans in many states across the country.
You can find earlier editions of our Redistricting Roundup here.