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Courts will be key to determining the degree of difficulty for Republicans trying to expand control over the US House and Democrats trying to flip the narrow GOP majority.
Judges could order new district lines in multiple states, maybe — only maybe — for the 2024 election, depending on how much of the clock is exhausted before local officials have to tell candidates where their voters are and lock down accurate precinct-level ballots.
The so-called Purcell principle, which is named after a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, says courts shouldn’t change voting laws close to an election. That “often just rewards state intransigence by keeping in place an unlawful election procedure because somebody’s successfully tried to run out the clock,” said Justin Levitt, law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Here’s where court calendars especially matter ahead of the 2024 congressional contests.
Alabama holds one of the nation’s earliest congressional primaries, in March 2024. Its US House district lines were thrown out in Allen v. Milligan, a case questioning fairness to Black voters that went all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Election officials have said a new map must be in place by about Oct. 1, and the federal judges handling the case have repeatedly said they’re mindful of the compressed timeline. They’ve blocked out the week of Aug. 14 for a hearing, and have identified a third-party “special master” and a preferred cartographer who’d draw a replacement map if the legislature’s new US House map is rejected.
The state, defending the new Republican-drawn map, argues in an Aug. 4 brief that the redrawn districts are geographically compact and keep together Wiregrass and Gulf Coast regional communities of interest. “Splitting communities of interest because they are too white unambiguously violates the Constitution,” the state’s brief said.
September: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico
In Georgia, a trial is to start Sept. 5 on challenges to a Republican-drawn map.
Plaintiffs allege that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act by failing to draw an additional Black-majority district in the western Atlanta metropolitan area. Republican defendants say voting in Georgia is equally open to all voters regardless of race, and note five of Georgia’s 14 districts are held by Black representatives. Georgia’s primary is scheduled for May.
Kentucky’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Sept. 19 in a Democratic appeal of a lower state court ruling that said the Kentucky Constitution doesn’t explicitly forbid partisan gerrymandering. Republicans hold five of six districts in Kentucky.
A federal lawsuit challenging the Florida congressional map goes to trial in late September. The original start date, Sept. 25, could be pushed back because of Yom Kippur. That case alleges the Republican-drawn map reduced the number of “Black opportunity districts” from four to two, in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments.
There’s a separate state court challenge after Florida revised what had been a heavily Black seat and divided its 370,000-plus Black voters across four North Florida districts. At issue in the state case is whether Florida’s Fair Districts standards violate the US Constitution. Those standards, banning districts that diminish the ability of minorities to elect representatives of their choice, were approved by voters in 2010.
In New Mexico, a state court will hold a trial Sept. 27-29 on the Democratic legislature’s map. Democrats won all three districts in the 2022 election, including a reconfigured 2nd District where Gabe Vasquez (D) narrowly unseated then-Rep. Yvette Herrell (R). The New Mexico Supreme Court previously ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable and directed the trial court to resolve the matter by Oct. 1.
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October: Louisiana, South Carolina
In Louisiana, a federal court will hold a hearing Oct. 3-5 about what steps will be taken to implement a remedial map. Louisiana’s 2022 map was invalidated for having just one Black-majority district in a six-district state that’s about one-third Black, though the US Supreme Court allowed it to be used for the 2022 election while it considered Allen v. Milligan.
The US Supreme Court on Oct. 11 will hear arguments in a Republican appeal to a lower court’s conclusion that South Carolina’s Charleston-area 1st District is a racial gerrymander that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Republican legislators say they made a political and race-neutral decision to increase the Republican tilt of the 1st District, where Rep. Nancy Mace was re-elected by 14 percentage points after the redistricting.
Timing TBD: Arkansas, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah
New York‘s highest state court is weighing a Republican appeal to an intermediate appellate court’s decision last month that directs the state’s independent redistricting commission to submit a new congressional map for the Democratic-controlled state legislature to consider.
New York courts struck down the legislature’s preferred 2022 election map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Under the map drawn by a court-appointed special master, Democrats won just 15 of 26 districts but lost six that preferred Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Democrats could make gains under new lines or even if the 2022 map is used again, depending on the national and state political environments.
The Ohio Supreme Court has been directed to review its July 2022 ruling that a Republican-drawn congressional map “unduly favors the Republican Party and and disfavors the Democratic Party” in violation of state constitutional language approved by Ohio voters in 2018. The map wasn’t invalidated until after the primary, though, and Republicans won 10 of 15 districts.
The US Supreme Court in June remanded a Republican appeal back to the state Supreme Court, after justices in Moore v. Harper rejected a sweeping Republican-backed argument that state legislatures may set federal election rules without review by state courts.
Utah’s Supreme Court is weighing a challenge to a GOP map that divided populous and Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County among all four congressional districts.
A Voting Rights Act case pending against the GOP-drawn map in Texas alleges the map dilutes the voting strength of Latino communities. Texas’s primary is in early March, and its candidate filing period begins in November, so new lines may not be in place for the 2024 election even if plaintiffs win their case.
And the latest challenge to Arkansas’ congressional map alleges it violates the 14th and 15th Amendments after shifting some Black voters out of the Little Rock-based 2nd District of Rep. French Hill (R). The case is pending in federal court.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org