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gerrymandering
September 3, 2019

In a unanimous decision, three superior court judges in North Carolina ruled on Tuesday that the state's legislative districts are unconstitutional.

The Wake County judges gave the Republican-led General Assembly until Sept. 17 to redraw the state's House and Senate district maps and submit them for review to a court-appointed official. The judges said the maps drawn by the state legislature are "partisan," and the plaintiffs — including the nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause — were able to prove that "in all but the most unusual election scenarios, the Republican Party will control a majority of both chambers of the General Assembly."

North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) complained that the decision "contradicts the Constitution and binding legal precedent," but said the General Assembly will not appeal. The judges found that the Free Elections Clause of the North Carolina Constitution gave the court the authority to order new districts.

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in a statement the court "has made clear that partisan gerrymandering violates our state's constitution and is unacceptable. Thanks to the court's landmark decision, politicians in Raleigh will no longer be able to rig our elections through partisan gerrymandering." Catherine Garcia

June 28, 2019

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority decided that federal courts have no say in partisan gerrymandering, or the practice of state lawmakers drawing electoral districts to boost their own party at the state and federal level. Advocates of fair and representative electoral maps aren't without options, though. Here are three paths the Supreme Court left open, for now:

1. State courts
The Supreme Court "explicitly said" partisan-gerrymandering lawsuits "are still fair game in state courts," Politico notes. Pennsylvania's high court threw out gerrymandered districts last year, and the next test case will be North Carolina, where Democrats are challenging GOP-drawn state maps at the state Supreme Court, where six of seven justices ran as Democrats. But 38 states use elections as part of the process to fill their high courts, The Washington Post cautions, and "Republicans are highly organized at the state level and have been successful at filling judiciary seats with conservatives."

2. Nonpartisan redistricting systems
In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed to some of independent or nonpartisan redistricting processes created by states like Florida, Michigan, Colorado, and Ohio. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, now head of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said his group is pushing for nonpartisan redistricting changes in Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma in 2020. But a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court majority upheld independent redistricting commissions in 2014, with retired Justice Anthony Kennedy the deciding vote and Roberts voting no, so reformers are concerned this avenue might close, too.

3. The ballot box
State and federal districts will be drawn in 2021, after the 2020 census, and one way to get representative maps is, as Holder said, electing candidates "who support fair maps." Or maybe divided government: Republicans control the governorship and legislature in 22 states, versus the Democrats' 14. National elections matter, too. House Democrats have approved legislation requiring states to establish independent, nonpartisan commissions, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vows he won't allow it to get a vote in the Senate. Peter Weber

May 22, 2019

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, signed a bill on Tuesday that could prove crucial in the nation's gerrymandering debate going forward.

The bill effectively ends what is known as "prison gerrymandering," in Washington, making the Evergreen State the fifth to do so. Prison gerrymandering occurs when a state accounts for inmates in state prisons in their prisons' districts rather than their home communities.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Prison Policy Initiative explained the decision's logic by pointing out that while all districts send people to prison, not all districts have prisons, which leads to "extra representation" for districts that do have prisons. Aleks Kajstura, the Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative said the law "offers Washington voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn."

Washington joins California, Delaware, New York, and Maryland as the only states to expressly outlaw prison gerrymandering at the state-wide level, though a few others have measures in place at the local level. Tim O'Donnell

April 26, 2019

A federal three-judge panel ruled unanimously Thursday that Michigan's map of congressional and state legislative districts was unfairly drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature to give the GOP "a strong, systematic, and durable structural advantage in Michigan's elections and decidedly discriminates against Democrats."

The judges gave the GOP legislature until Aug. 1 to draw new maps acceptable to the state's new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. If they fail, or the map still violates the First Amendment rights of Democrats, the court will draw the new maps. The new districts must be ready by the 2020 election, the court found, and it ordered new state Senate elections in 2020, not 2022 as scheduled, in any gerrymandered district. A majority of Michigan's 14 congressional elections could be held in new districts next year, too.

"This court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," the judges wrote in their opinion. The case was brought by the League of Women Voters of Michigan. State GOP lawmakers said they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which may choose to suspend it until the high court hands down rulings on two other partisan gerrymandering cases in June.

"The decision is likely a boon for Democrats, who in 2018 failed to win a majority of the seats in the state House of Representatives, state Senate, or the state's U.S. congressional delegation despite winning the overall popular vote in all three cases," Reuters notes. Peter Weber

August 27, 2018

A three-judge federal panel ruled on Monday that because North Carolina's congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans over Democrats, new districts may have to be drawn ahead of the November elections.

North Carolina legislators put together a map where 10 of the state's 13 U.S. House districts are held by Republicans, and the federal judges said they are wary of giving lawmakers there another chance at drawing the congressional districts. Federal courts have twice ruled already that the districts violate parts of the Constitution, and the judges said that although North Carolina voters have already chosen candidates through primary elections, the court is not entirely comfortable allowing voting to take place in November with the current map.

Some state lawmakers were blatant with their agenda, The Washington Post reports, including state Rep. David Lewis (R), who told his fellow members of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016 that he thinks "electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country." Catherine Garcia

May 9, 2018

On Tuesday, Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed Issue 1, a plan to change how the state draws its congressional districts to prevent excessively partisan gerrymandering. Currently, there are "12 congressional seats safe for Republicans and four guaranteed for Democrats in the quintessential swing state that leans — not lunges — to the right," The Cincinnati Enquirer notes. The new plan — which takes effect in 2021, after the 2020 census determines how many congressional seats Ohio gets — was approved by the state legislature in February and is supported by both the Ohio Republican Party and Ohio Democratic Party.

Under the plan, the first of its kind, the 2021 map will be drawn by the state General Assembly but must be approved by 60 percent of lawmakers in the Ohio House and Senate, including half the members of the minority party. If lawmakers can't agree on a map, it goes to a commission made up of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and two lawmakers from each major party. If they can't agree on a map, the General Assembly takes another crack, with a lower approval threshold, a four-year expiration date, and stricter guidelines to protect against gerrymandering. Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved an anti-gerrymander system for state legislative districts in 2015. Peter Weber

January 9, 2018

A panel of three federal judges on Tuesday ruled that North Carolina's congressional map is unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and said the state's General Assembly must redraw district lines before the 2018 midterm election.

This is the first time a federal court has ruled that a congressional map's boundaries violate the Constitution because they were drawn for partisan reasons — in this case, to benefit Republican candidates. North Carolina has until Jan. 24 to come up with a "remedial plan," but the court said if it found the new district lines to be partisan, the judges will make the new map.

Several organizations challenged the North Carolina map, including Common Cause. "Every American deserves representation in Washington, but the gerrymandered map struck down by the court today robbed much of the state of a representative voice in the nation's capital," the group's president, Karen Hobart, said in a statement, adding, "Today's decision is a victory for democracy." Catherine Garcia

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