N.Y. Court Ponders Redistricting Dominoes: Ballots & Boundaries

New York State Court of Appeals judges are weighing what would happen next if they reject congressional maps that were aggressively tilted in the Democrats’ favor.

Some of their questions during today’s oral arguments focused on whether the Legislature or the politician-appointed commission would get first crack if there’s a redo.

The dueling responses: an attorney for the Republicans said the court should draw the maps and lawyers for the Democrats said redistricting would have to go back to the Legislature. Plus, the Democrats contend the court would have to go district by district to identify the unconstitutional gerrymandering.

The case is one of the big ones to watch, along with a Kansas case headed for higher court review and fresh litigation over Florida’s four-day-old congressional map.

“We are still in the thick of redistricting,” Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, whose firm is spearheading challenges in several states, said in a briefing on Twitter Spaces.

There are cases in both state and federal courts:

  • State court cases that allege mapmakers violated rules against partisan gerrymandering. Democrats challenged congressional maps heavily favoring Republicans in Florida, Ohio, and Kansas. Republicans challenged maps in New York and New Mexico.
  • Federal court cases that allege racial gerrymandering violations under the federal Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that partisan line-drawing isn’t subject to federal challenge, but other sections of the VRA are the basis of federal court challenges in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas.

The Kansas case focuses on pro-Republican redistricting that split Wyandotte County, a heavily minority area that’s now represented by Sharice Davids, the only Democrat in Kansas’ congressional delegation. The congressional map also cleaved the eastern Kansas city of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, from the rest of Douglas County and absorbed the urban liberal university town into the state’s most Republican district, which stretches to the Colorado border almost 400 miles west.

Republicans and Democrats so far have battled to almost a draw over new congressional maps, raising the stakes for the litigation. “Anytime any of these cases end up resulting in a redraw, it could impact the national partisan lean at the House of Representatives,” said Ben Williams, a redistricting expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. — Kenneth P. Doyle, Keshia Clukey, Jennifer Kay, and Greg Giroux

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The New Hampshire House’s redistricting committee plans to meet tomorrow morning with no sign of an end to its impasse.

On the docket: A map preferred by Gov. Chris Sununu, who’s acknowledged it doesn’t have enough votes from his fellow Republicans on the committee. His plan would make more modest changes to New Hampshire’s two districts than the map passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, which would endanger Rep. Chris Pappas (D) of the 1st District and make Rep. Annie Kuster (D) of the 2nd District more politically secure. Sununu has said he would veto that map, though he hasn’t yet.

Sununu also doesn’t like a map proposed by committee member Ross Berry (R) that would pair Pappas and Kuster in a mildly Republican 1st District that is more similar to the legislature’s proposal than to the governor’s map.

“The people of New Hampshire are counting on the House Special Committee on Redistricting to deliver a map that holds our incumbents accountable and keeps our districts competitive,” Sununu said. “We are still not there.” — Greg Giroux

Redistricting’s Impact: Member vs. Member

Illinois’ 15th District (R-vs-R): An ad for Rep. Mary Miller touted Donald Trump’s endorsement and referred to Rep. Rodney Davis as a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) who “joined Liz Cheney to form the sham January 6th commission.” Davis was among the 35 Republicans who voted for a measure that would have created a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol; after that stalled in the Senate, Davis opposed the select committee created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

A Davis ad said Miller “voted with the socialist Squad to defund our military,” referring to her December 2021 opposition to the fiscal 2022 defense authorization law backed in the House by all but 51 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Miller explained her reasons for voting no. — Greg Giroux

Michigan’s 11th District (D-vs-D): Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin debated in Pontiac, a majority-minority Democratic bastion near Detroit that’s new to both candidates after redistricting. Levin said he would set up his chief district office in downtown Pontiac if elected, while Stevens said she had made 21 campaign trips to the city.

Levin touted his alignment with the Green New Deal and Congressional Progressive Caucus and noted Stevens’ significant financial support from AIPAC, which has backed some Republicans. Stevens, who represents more of the new 11th District than Levin, suggested he should have sought re-election in a neighboring district that may fall to the Republicans. Watch the debate HERE. — Greg Giroux

Court Districts

It’s been nearly 20 years since a Black justice was elected to the Mississippi Supreme Court. A new federal lawsuit argues that district lines unchanged for decades dilute the voting strength of Blacks casting ballots for representation on the state’s highest court.

The ACLU of Mississippi, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Mississippi civic leaders want those three at-large districts redrawn. Only four Black justices have ever served on the state’s Supreme Court, and all were first appointed by the governor, according to the lawsuit. Black candidates who’ve run for additional Supreme Court seats haven’t been successful, and “racially polarized voting is a basic fact of political life in Mississippi,” according to the suit.

Blacks make up 37.9% of Mississippi’s population, according to the latest U.S. Census. — Jennifer Kay

Voting Law

It’s signature-review time for the North Dakota Secretary of State now that supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment have submitted signatures to try to get their initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Backers submitted petitions with an estimated 33,624 signatures, with 31,164 valid signatures required to ask statewide voters if they want to change the rules for future ballot initiatives.

The Secretary of State’s Office has until May 27 to review the petitions, which call for constitutional measures to be on a single issue, and for success to be determined by a supermajority of 60% rather than the current simple majority vote. — Tina May

Democrats and Republicans in the South Carolina General Assembly are trying to come together to expand early voting in time for statewide primaries on June 14.

The state Senate unanimously approved an Assembly-passed bill (H.B. 4919). But Gov. Henry McMaster (R) and House leaders aren’t happy that senators added a provision giving them power to confirm the governor’s choices for the director and five board members of the South Carolina Election Commission. — The Associated Press

Caught Our Eye

  • U.S. elections officials and cybersecurity experts are warning that Russia may launch cyberattacks against election systems ahead of November’s midterms. (Stateline)
  • Voter ID, mail voting rollback ballot questions likely dead after court rulings (Nevada Independent)
  • Redistricting has made Arizona Democratic U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton a GOP target in the midterms. (NPR)

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To contact the reporters on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com; Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com; Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com; Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com