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Redistricting Roundup: Courts continue to play an active role in redistricting

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March 2, 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka

Other states featured in this week's Roundup

While the majority of legislative and congressional maps have been passed into law, several are still being fought in the courts, and a number of those awaiting approval have already ended up before a judge.

In New York, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann has been appointed by a federal three-judge panel to act as special redistricting master. Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans appeared at a hearing before Mann and the panel on Monday. The legislative leaders acknowledged they did not have an agreement on a new map of congressional districts, and Mann ordered them to submit plans by Wednesday. Outside groups were given until today to submit plans. Mann will consider all suggested maps and issue her own maps by March 12.

Currently, Mann only has authority over the drawing of congressional districts, but that could change. Legislative leaders have to report to the court by March 15, and if they are not making progress, the court will address legislative district lines as well.

On Wednesday, legislative leaders said they were unable to agree on a proposed congressional map. Instead, three legislative conferences - Senate Republicans, Assembly Republicans and Assembly Democrats - submitted their own plans. Senate Democrats chose not to submit a plan because, as spokesman Mike Murphy explained, “Politicians should not be drawing the lines.”[1]

While all the proposals differed, the three parties each urged the court to preserve the seats of incumbents and agreed that the district held by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D), who is retiring, should be one of the two eliminated. Since the proposals were all submitted separately, they are not legally binding and Mann is not required to adopt any of them. However, if the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) are able to agree on a plan soon, the court may have to defer to it.

The court also announced it will hire Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School, as an adviser to Mann. Persily recently served as special master in Connecticut. He will be paid $400 an hour for his work.

Meanwhile, details have started to emerge on a possible deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the Legislature to create a constitutional amendment to change the state's redistricting process. The plan under discussion would create a 10 member panel made up of eight members appointed by legislators, who would then select the remaining two. A Constitutional change requires the approval of two consecutively elected legislatures and thus would take years to implement. If approved it would not be in effect until redistricting following the 2020 census.

State news

Florida

Under Florida law, the Florida Supreme Court is required to review the state's legislative redistricting maps. On Wednesday, the Court heard oral arguments in that review. This is the first time legislative maps have had to conform to the "Fair Districts" amendment approved in 2010. As such, the court asked a range of questions intended to guide the court in interpreting the new law.

Attorneys for the state argued that the maps were drawn fairly, and that the lawmakers who drafted the maps did not known where incumbents lived. However, attorneys opposing the maps argue that the plan's pro-Republican bent speaks for itself. If the Court does mandate revisions, the legislature may have to hold a special session. The regular session ends on March 9.

Quote of the Week
"No rational person could expect seven appellate-court justices to resolve these extraordinarily tough factual issues,"[2] -- Michael Carvin, Attorney for the Florida State Senate speaking before the Florida Supreme Court in regard to the Court's review of new legislative maps.

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Hawaii

On February 27, the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission released updates to their revised redistricting maps. The Commission's original maps were struck down by the Hawaii Supreme Court. The updates were made in response to comments made about the revised maps released after the ruling. The changes will affect several Oahu House districts, reunifying several communities on the island. These amendments will not change the number of incumbents paired by the plain. A list of the communities affected can be found here.

Kansas

Like many state legislatures, the Kansas State Legislature typically allows each chamber to draw its respective redistricting map. This tradition, however, is on the rocks as lawmakers consider plans to redraw the state's legislative maps. House Speaker Mike O'Neal (R) has suggested that the House may tweak the Senate plan to garner additional support. One Senate plan under consideration has already drawn criticism for combining two southern districts and pairing two incumbents. The Kansas House of Representatives has already approved a chamber map, passing the plan 109-14 on February 9. Since Republicans hold decisive majorities in both chambers, much of controversy has arisen from the conflict of moderate and conservative Republicans.

In addition, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has taken a more active role in redistricting, suggesting that lawmakers form a single Senate district for Leavenworth County and keep KSU in an eastern congressional district. The county is currently split between two Democratic districts. Manhattan (and KSU) have been moved into a western district under one congressional proposal. Opponents, however, contend that Brownback is essentially targeting former Democratic opponents with the suggestion. In addition, the KSU move could force lawmakers to divide Topeka or Kansas City.

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 35 See full list here
Total States where courts have altered/changed the final map: 13
Maps submitted for vote: 130 out of 142 (91.5%)** No votes on initial maps in the following: AL (2), KS (1), ME (2), MT (2), NH (2), NY (3)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 40/43 (Maps unfinished: KS, NH, NY)
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 40/50 (Maps unfinished: AL, FL, KS, ME, MS, MT, NH, NY, VT, WY)
**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)

Kentucky

Last Friday, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the state's leglislative districts, upholding an earlier Circuit Court ruling. The Circuit Court held that the districts exhibited unacceptable population disparities and divided too many counties--both violations of the Kentucky Constitution. As a consequence of the High Court's ruling, 2012 elections will take place in Kentucky's existing legislative districts. In addition, since the filing deadline has already passed, candidates may not change their filing. This will force some candidates whose residences lie outside the old district lines to withdraw. A full opinion by the Supreme Court is still pending and legislators may wait until next year to revise the plans.

  • The Supreme Court order can be found here.
  • The Circuit Court ruling can be found here.


Pennsylvania

The state Supreme Court handed Republicans another defeat this week by ordering Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R) to call special elections for six vacant seats in the chamber. Residents of those districts called on the court to force Smith to schedule them but Smith said he couldn’t act until the Legislative Reapportionment Commission passes a new plan and the court approves it. Smith and Secretary of State Carol Aichele (R) asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, but the court sided against them. The special elections will be held in the districts drawn in 2001, which are much more favorable to Democrats than plans drawn up by the current Republican majority.

Rhode Island

Republicans are looking to file a lawsuit against the new districts approved by the legislature on February 8. Republicans are claiming that the new lines were drawn for political reasons only in order to help Democrats in the state. The main argument is with Districts 47 and 48, where only around 300 people needed to be moved from district 48 to 47 but 1,500 were moved instead. A consultant was paid to help draw the lines and he defended the current map saying the lines were drawn based on current fire districts in the area. Republicans countered that the lines do not actually follow those of the fire districts. They also noted that their proposed lawsuit is not intended to help one candidate or another but rather to ensure that residents are not inconvenienced in voting. However, others have stated that the proposed Republican map is no better than what has already been approved. Several contentious issues arose during state redistricting, notably that the new districts could adversely affect minority populations.

This Week's Redistricting Highlight

On Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the new state House maps. The House maps were already upheld by a lower court, but so were the State Senate maps prior to their rejection by the state Supreme Court. The House maps were drawn by a panel of judges.

New Senate districts have been drawn by a freshly-appointed bi-partisan commission, but these districts face a two week public comment period and possible litigation. Along with the uncertainty facing the state House maps, Missouri candidate filing is in a state of confusion. Nevertheless, election officials report that candidate filings are up from 2008. The filing deadline for candidates is March 27.

Texas

The politically contentious redistricting cycle is finally winding down in Texas as the panel approved interim maps and set a primary date. On Tuesday, the three-judge panel in San Antonio issued interim maps for congressional and state House districts. Republicans on the whole saw the maps as a victory -- an analysis by the state GOP showed that the party only lost one state House seat from their original map and showed that they could win 100 of the 150 state House seats up in November.

Democrats and minority rights groups, however, were not happy with the maps and turned their attention to a federal court in Washington as a last ditch effort. They asked for an expedited decision in a pending case that is examining whether the original maps drawn by the Legislature violate the Federal Voting Rights Act. The interim maps released by the court are based on the original maps and the groups argue that because of this the new maps have the same "intentional discrimination" as the Legislature's maps. The Washington court said it would probably rule sometime this month.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio court on Thursday set the primary date for May 29 and re-opened candidate filing from today through March 9. While some are upset that Texas has been taken out of Super Tuesday, most citizens - politicians and voters alike - seem happy to finally have a date set.

Virginia

On February 28, a Virginia circuit court judge dismissed the state challenge pending against the state's congressional districts. On January 25, the district court allowed the case to move forward. Following that decision, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) had asked the Virginia Supreme Court to intervene and settle the matter, but the High Court declined. Nevertheless, the state's defense was ultimately vindicated. Judge Richard D. Taylor concluded that although the Virginia Constitution instructs lawmakers to complete redistricting in 2011, it does not forbid the completion of maps in 2012. A similar federal challenge was dismissed on February 10.

Wisconsin

A federal three-judge panel is now deliberating on a case that seeks to have the state’s new district maps thrown out. The trial was supposed to get under way on February 21, but that was delayed by two days when the court directed attorneys in the case to meet with legislators and ask them to consider altering the maps. Republicans said they would be willing to do so but that the law would not allow them. The court rejected this argument and asked them to reconsider a second time, but again they declined.

Following the GOP rejection, the case was put on a fast track. Plaintiffs dropped several allegations from the suit, including charges that Assembly districts in black neighborhoods were inappropriately drawn and that the discriminatory effects of the maps were intentional. That leaves only two main issues for the court to decide - if the maps unconstitutionally dilute Latino voting power and if some 300,000 citizens were moved needlessly, delaying their vote in Senate elections from the usual four years to six. Presiding Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said a written decision would be issued in the next few weeks.

See also

References