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Democrats Face Worsening Legal Environment on Redistricting | Political News

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI. Associated Press

After New York’s top court this week scuttled Democratic hopes of winning this decade’s redistricting cycles, the party now faces an increasingly uncertain legal environment in its hyper-partisan struggle to draw legislative lines.

The Court of Appeals in New York overturned Wednesday’s map drawn by Democrats. Instead, a nonpartisan expert was to draw the lines for each of the 26 congressional districts. This was at most the fifth time in this cycle that a state court ruled that maps drawn in state legislature were too partisan. A map of Maryland by the Democrats fell and one drawn in Ohio, Kansas, North Carolina, and Ohio were also tossed out.

However, Republicans are expected to win the Ohio and North Carolina state Supreme Court elections in November. This would allow those GOP-controlled legislatures implement more partisan maps prior to 2024. Contrary to that, the 4-3 New York ruling was made by a court entirely appointed by Democrats. A party that now finds it bound to a bipartisan process written in the state constitution.

According to Lakshya jain, a lecturer at University of California-Berkeley, who writes about redistricting on Split Ticket, Democratic judges aren’t as likely to allow extreme partisan gerrymandering. Jain noted that Democrats have been pushing redistricting reform and anti gerrymandering legislation for a long period. This influences their judges’ preferences.

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Florida is where the biggest test of potential legal asymmetry lies. Democrats and civil right groups are challenging a congressional plan drawn by Republican Gov. The GOP-controlled legislature was passed by Ron DeSantis. Initial objections by lawmakers were to the map which favors their party because it eliminates two plurality-Black districts. This could be a violation of the Fair Districts Amendment which requires lawmakers in the state to draw districts that allow racial/linguistic minorities to select their representatives.

Although Republicans insist that they have followed Florida law, many legal experts disagree.

Douglas Spencer, a law professor from the University of Colorado-Boulder, said that this is not a difficult legal issue. If they took the most gerrymandered American history map and allowed it to stand, it would be a complete abdication from the rule of law.

Spencer stated that he is optimistic that Florida’s state supreme Court will eventually strike down the map, but he noted that he is in the minority of redistricting experts. Six of the seven members on the state supreme Court were appointed by Republican governors.

The once-in-a-decade redistricting process was a nervous start for Democrats, with Republicans in control of drawing far more congressional seats. This is due to both GOP success in state elections as well as the fact that Democrats’ reform push led them to cede line drawing power to independent commissions in states like Colorado.

However, Democrats were relatively successful in shifting the House seat closest to President Joe Biden’s five-point margin for victory in 2020. It’s difficult to accurately assess how the party performed until the Florida and New York litigation ends. However, it’s likely that the map will still favor Democrats more than it did after 2010, when Republicans used their statehouse dominance in an attempt to secure a House majority using partisan maps. The majority of the Democratic gains were made in New York, which was the most populous state in which the party controlled line-drawing. It also had the potential to win as many as four House seats through its partisan map.

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The recent flurry in state court actions is due to a legal ruling made at the tail end the last redistricting cycles. The conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts do not have any role in policing partisan-gerrymanders. This is maps that are specifically drawn to benefit one side by bending lines to capture enough voters to win elections.

This facilitated redistricting litigation to be brought into state courts. The Brennan Center for Social Justice’s Michael Li said that state courts have been in many ways the hero of this cycle. He argued against gerrymandering as well as for redistricting reform.

Li said that state courts have vulnerabilities that are not present in the federal system. Many state courts’ compositions change from election-to-election, making decisions in places like Ohio and North Carolina dependent upon which party is in power in November. In New York, for example, state courts are very uneven. They aggressively fight against gerrymanders. However, in Texas, where the state supreme court has been so conservative, civil rights groups have instead turned to federal courts to challenge maps drawn in recent decades by the GOP-controlled legislature.

There is more uncertainty about the legal landscape for redistricting this election cycle due to the fact that the conservative majority on U.S. Supreme Court suggested it might rewrite the rules governing the drawing of legislative district lines. In February, conservative justices on the court indicated that they might revise the rules for drawing districts to ensure that they comply with the Voting Right Act’s requirement minorities have the right to elect their representatives. They also need to be consistent with other races’ voting patterns. In March, four conservative justices indicated their willingness to consider arguments by Republican lawyers that only state legislatures can draw congressional maps.

Redistricting reformers expressed their satisfaction with the performance of the courts in this cycle, even though they are still skeptical. Suzanne Almeida from Common Cause, a frequent litigant who opposes gerrymanders noted that courts in Republican States like Ohio have joined those in deep Democratic States like New York in removing partisan mapping.

Almeida stated, “If I ran the world,” there would be national standards against the use of gerrymandering to ensure that skewed maps in one large state don’t affect the entire congressional map. A Democratic proposal to do just that was defeated in Congress earlier this year. Almeida explained that we are taking all the wins we can.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material cannot be published, broadcast or rewritten.

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