Redistricting Roundup: Court presence steadily increasing in redistricting

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November 18, 2011

Edited by Geoff Pallay

Note: There will be no roundup next Friday owing to the Thanksgiving holiday. The Redistricting Roundup will return on December 2.

Other states featured in this week's Roundup

As 2011 is drawing to a close, the courts are playing an ever-increasing role in redistricting. This week, the total number of states with redistricting-related lawsuits jumped above 30.

Additionally, the courts played an active role this week in a number of ongoing legal situations. At least 10 states this week featured courts actively involved in redistricting. Click the links for more details.

After the 2000 redistricting process, about 1/4 of state redistricting efforts were altered by the courts. That figure could increase this time around as courts continue to play a pivotal role in the ultimate shakedown of the new Congressional and legislative districts.

State news

Alaska

Although the Fairbanks Borough Assembly officially withdrew from the consolidated redistricting lawsuit on November 3, the Assembly voted yesterday to provide $25,000 in legal services for the remaining plaintiffs. The Assembly was deadlocked on the issue, but freshly sworn-in Assemblyman John Davies broke the tie. He was on vacation and missed the ordinary swearing-in date for borough assembly members. Davies is a former Democratic member of the Alaska House of Representatives. Opponents suggest that the decision was politically motivated -- a charge Davies denies.

Arizona

Earlier this month, Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer (R) removed Colleen Mathis from the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Brewer had accused Mathis, the lone independent and chair, of ignoring Constitutional requirements during the redistricting process. The move has been criticized by Democrats and by the original writers of the ballot measure that created the independent commission in 2000.

Yesterday, the Arizona Supreme Court overruled Brewer and reinstated Mathis to the commission. The Court held that Brewer failed to show that Mathis had engaged in any conduct to provide grounds for removal. The commission is likely to convene sometime next week to consider their next steps. Prior to Mathis’s removal, the commission had been close to reaching the end of a 30-day comment period on the two draft maps for congressional and legislative districts.

However, Brewer’s spokesperson left open the possibility that she could seek removal once again, perhaps by more strongly wording the reasons for removal.

California

The referendum to withdraw newly created Senate maps turned in a total of 710,924 signatures this week. Signature organizers believe that should be sufficient to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot. The Secretary of State of California will now begin the lengthy process of certifying the signatures. If a full count of the signatures is required, then certification could be delayed until March 2012. If it takes that long, that could ultimately clear the way for the commission-drawn maps to be used in the June 2012 primary. Certification will not begin until late November 2011. This is the only active challenge to the redistricting maps in California.

Quote of the Week
"Zowie! The court has well served the people of Arizona, who went to great effort 11 years ago to take some of the partisan politics out of the map-making process. We the people owe the justices a drink."[1]

-- Dennis Michael Burke, co-author of the ballot measure that created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, upon hearing that the court had reinstated chairwoman Colleen Mathis.

Colorado

Redistricting is keeping the Colorado Supreme Court busy these days. On Tuesday, the Court rejected the new House and Senate maps which were passed by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission back on September 19. The Court voted 4-2 to reject the maps for favoring competitiveness over respect for country boundaries. This sends the maps back to the commission, who must submit new maps by December 6.

The day following the decision on legislative maps, the GOP filed an appeal over the Democratic-sponsored congressional map that was selected by Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt last week. The redrawn map gives Democrats a chance of unseating two Republican incumbents. Similar to the legislative maps, Republicans argue the congressional map made unnecessary changes for the sake of competitiveness. The process was sent to the courts back in May when the legislative session ended without agreement. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on December 1.

Florida

House Democrats expressed concern this week over several canceled redistricting committee meetings. The meetings, originally scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, were canceled after House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford (R) asked for more time to prepare draft maps. The House committee is now aiming to have maps prepared by early December--a move Democrats worry will prevent a thorough public inspection of the maps. Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz (R) expressed confidence that House would have maps prepared in time. The Senate, by contrast, has acted more quickly, finishing guidelines for the redistricting staff who will draw the maps and working toward a compromise on minority districts.

Idaho

On Wednesday, Twin Falls County filed suit in Idaho Supreme Court against the new legislative redistricting map for what officials say is an unconstitutional division of 11 counties. Twin Falls was joined by the counties of Kootenai, Owyhee and Teton, along with several cities. Under the new map, Twin Falls County is split into three districts, something the lawsuit says puts voters at a disadvantage. Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs offered an alternative map that is said to create districts which keep more counties intact and are more uniform in population.

Illinois

Court hearings in the GOP lawsuit against new congressional districts began yesterday. Republicans argue that the new map is unconstitutional as it is politically gerrymandered and dilutes the votes of Latinos. As evidence that Democrats used the process for political gain, Republicans produced emails between the state and national Democratic party organizations. GOP lawyers specifically pointed to emails from Ian Russell of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to Andrew Manar, a top aide to state Senate President John Cullerton (D), wherein Russell cites a mutual goal of increasing Democratic pick ups and redrawing downstate districts to help Democrats.

While it is unclear how quickly the case will proceed, time is of the essence - the signature filing deadline for 2012 candidates is December 5. All 59 State Senate and 118 State House seats will be up for election.

Kentucky

This week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) outlined a possible redistricting plan for Kentucky’s congressional districts. The plan has drawn the ire of state Republicans for weakening the GOP base in the 1st and 5th Districts and displacing US Rep. Brett Guthrie (R) in District 2. Stumbo argues that the plan is designed to create more compact districts. Regardless, any map approved by the Kentucky House will require the approval of the Republican-controlled Senate. Republicans control four of the state’s six congressional districts.

Governor Steve Beshear (D) has yet to decide whether to call a special session or let lawmakers begin redistricting in January. Republicans favor waiting, citing a $60,000/day price tag for a special session. Stumbo, speaking for himself, said he would favor a special session in the unlikely event that lawmakers have a compromise ready.

Louisiana

Less than a month after winning re-election, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is fighting to keep Louisiana's seven congressional seats. Under new congressional district plan, a result of national redistricting based on the 2010 census, Louisiana has six seats in Congress - one fewer than it has had for the last ten years.

Caldwell's office has filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging the census "included illegal foreign nationals along with holders of guest-worker visas and student visas" in it's 2012 national population count. Thus far, Louisiana is the only state to have filed such a suit.

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 31
Next state deadline? Connecticut
November 30, 2011
Maps submitted for vote: 97 out of 142 (68.3%)** AK (2), AL (1), AR (3), AZ (3), CA (3), CO (2), DE (2), GA (3), HI (3), IA (3), ID (3), IL (3), IN (3), LA (3), MA (2), ME (1), MD (1), MI (3), MN (3), MO (1), MS (2), NC (3), NE (2), NJ (2), NM (3), NV (3), OH (3), OK (3), OR (3), PA (2), SC (3), SD (2), TX (3), UT (3), VA (3), WI (3), WV (3)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 24 (AL, AR, CA, GA, HI, ID, IL, IA, IA, LA, ME, MD, MI, MO, NE, NC, OH, OK, OR, SC, TX, UT, WV, WI, )
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 27 (AK, AR, CA, DE, GA, HI, ID, IL, IA, IA, LA, MA, MI, NE, NJ, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, WV, WI)
**With 50 states, there are 142 possible maps. 50 State Senate, 49 State House (No House in Nebraska), and 43 Congressional (7 states have 1 seat)

Massachusetts

On November 15, 2011, the State Senate approved the Congressional map by a vote of 31-6. The day before the state house approved the map with a 122-29 vote. Republicans had proposed an alternate map during floor debates but was defeated on a party-line vote.

The new map combined two Democratic incumbents -- Stephen Lynch and Bill Keating -- into one district, but Keating has opted to move to a newly-created and incumbent-free district along the South Shore of Cape Cod.

Michigan

On November 16, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the Oakland County Commission redistricting plan challenged by Republicans. The court found that the lines were legally permissible, meeting requirements for compactness, fair allocation of political power, and the protection of minority voting rights. Former Sen. Mike Bishop (R), County Commissioner David Potts (R), and residents Janice Daniels and Mary Kathryn Decuir filed the lawsuit on June 20, 2011. At least one plaintiff, Potts, expressed an interest in appealing the decision.

Minnesota

Today is the deadline for Minnesota’s major political parties to submit their redistricting proposals to the judicial redistricting panel. Although the state technically has time remaining to approve maps legislatively, the partisan impasse between the Republican-controlled Minnesota State Legislature and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton forced the court to intervene. The judicial panel hopes to select new maps by February 2012.

Missouri

This week, Judge Daniel Green replaced Judge Patricia S. Joyce on the congressional redistricting lawsuit filed on September 23. In addition, attorneys for the state asked that the case be dismissed, noting that virtually all redistricting plans are labeled "partisan" by their opponents. The plaintiffs argued that the map was drawn "solely" for political reasons.

Ohio

On Monday, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) asked to be dismissed from a lawsuit challenging the state’s redistricting process. Kasich argues that, as an executive, he played no role in drawing the new maps. The lawsuit, filed by a Batavia, Ohio resident, argues that without a congressional redistricting map, 2012 elections will be unconstitutional. Moreover, the lawsuit argues that the local judge, Jerry R. McBride, should draft new plans and retain jurisdiction over future redistricting efforts. Opponents see the case as effort to "shop" for a sympathetic court and tilt any judicial redistricting efforts toward the GOP. Joseph Braun, attorney for the plaintiff, rejected this charge. Legislative leaders William Batchelder (R) and Tom Niehaus (R) have already filed documents conceding the central claims of the lawsuit.

This Week's Redistricting Highlight
The Department of Justice informed the South Carolina State Senate last week that it would not oppose the new Senate map.

On November 11, 2011, six voters in Florence, Sumter, Georgetown, Berkeley, Darlington and Charleston counties filed suit against the new U.S. House map, calling the districts "voting apartheid." The suit requests that a three-judge panel dismiss the map and mandate lawmakers to create a new version of the seven Congressional districts. South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian filed the suit on behalf of the six voters.

Harpootlian is likely to file a new lawsuit against the legislative maps in the weeks ahead.

Tennessee

A League of Women Voters-sponsored redistricting contest ended this week with a winner expected to be announced today. Earlier this month the deadline passed for citizens to submit proposed plans to state officials.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Black Caucus is preparing for a possible lawsuit, pending the ultimate outcome of the new maps. State Representative G.A. Hardaway (D), president of the caucus, said the Republicans are locking minorities and women out of the process. With sweeping majorities in both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature, Republicans control the map-drawing process.

The maps are expected to be unveiled in January 2012.

Texas

Texas' interim redistricting plans for the State House and State Senate were released by a San Antonio federal court yesterday. Congressional maps are reportedly in the works. The maps are not yet final, and the court accepted objections and comments until today at noon. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office is reportedly developing comments for submission. Interim maps are needed so the 2012 elections can take place while the court undergoes a lengthy full trial to determine the fate of the state's redistricting lines. A federal court in DC shot down Texas' original redistricting plans last Tuesday, denying the state's request for a pre-clearance summary judgement - making interim maps a must.

The House plan is H298 and the Senate plan is S163. A second plan proposed for the House by Judge Smith is H299. The court's proposed interim plans can be viewed by going to Texas' District Viewer. The plans can be viewed by selecting "Overlay Plans" from the "Select Plans" drop down box at the top left of the viewer. From there select "Perez et al" from the categories drop down menu. The House plan is listed as PLANH298 and the Senate plan is listed as PLANS163. Judge Smith's House plan is listed as PLANH299.

Virginia

On Wednesday, a group of Virginia residents filed suit asking the U.S. District Court in Alexandria to draw the state’s new congressional districts. Although lawmakers have pledged to pass maps as early as possible in the 2012 session, the plaintiffs argue that the Virginia Constitution requires the maps to be completed by the end of this year. In addition, they note that the 60-day Department of Justice approval process will further exacerbate the delay. Since Republicans took control of the State Senate during the November elections, waiting until the next session would given them a decided advantage in redistricting. The attorney for the plaintiffs has worked for Democrats in the past but maintains that this case is independent of the state Democratic Party and Senate Democrats.

West Virginia

On Thursday, the West Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments from several groups challenging the state’s legislative redistricting plans. According to reports, the court seemed cautious about usurping the prerogative of state legislators. Attorneys for the state argued that several US Supreme Court rulings support the legislature’s approach. Justice Thomas E. McHugh acknowledged that lawmakers have considerable leeway in designing maps. However, the plaintiffs argued that the West Virginia Constitution mandates compact districts and the preservation of county lines. This, they argue, must be the baseline from which legislators entertain other considerations.

See also