Redistricting Roundup: Lawsuits dominate early stages of redistricting processes

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April 8, 2011

By Geoff Pallay

Redistricting Roundup.jpg

This week saw the nation's first finalized map, as the New Jersey Redistricting Commission approved new state legislative districts.

Meanwhile, the redistricting lawsuits continue to pile up. Already, 14 states have seen at least one lawsuit filed either pertaining to state or local redistricting. Some states -- such as Texas and Georgia have seen multiple lawsuits filed already.

What this indicates is that this year's process will likely be very messy for states. Of the 140 maps submitted during last decade's redistricting, 37 of them (25%) were eventually altered via some court process or lawsuit. With such a high incidence of lawsuits already filed, it is likely that an even higher percentage of final maps could be subject to court intervention.

A sampling of some of the lawsuits filed:

  • Maine: While state law requires redistricting to be done in 2013, local residents have filed suit to demand that the date be pushed up and new maps generated earlier. The suit contends that the congressional districts are out of balance because of a large growth in population in southern Maine.
  • Mississippi: Several lawsuits have been filed relating to the confrontation between the Senate and House over new state legislative maps. Ultimately, the main suit filed by the NAACP pertains to the delay in implementing new maps and seeks to place a restraining order on any map being put in place.
  • Oklahoma: A 2010 ballot initiative created a new bipartisan redistricting commission to serve as a backup for the legislative process. However, one libertarian voter has filed suit, alleging that the lack of inclusion of third party or independent interests on the commission is unconstitutional.

In the coming months (and likely years), it can be expected that the courts will have a major hand in the ultimate results of the new redistricting maps.

Quote of the Week
"So we'll trade a dragon for a snake,"[1]

-- Terry Madonna, professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College, referring to the 12th and 4th Congressional districts.


This week, lawsuits were filed in New York, Texas and Washington.

State news


The Alaska Redistricting Board must have preliminary maps drawn by April 14, 2011. In the run-up to the plan's release there will be several public meeting and work sessions. The schedule for these meetings can be found here.


The contentious battle over the new Congressional map continued this week between the Senate and House in Arkansas. On Monday, the Senate rejected the House-sponsored "Fayetteville to the Fourth" map. Then on Wednesday, the Senate passed an amended version that kept Fayetteville in the 3rd Congressional District. This map was then sent back to the House. On Thursday, the House State Agencies Committee rejected the Senate's map. Now, the stalemate continues as both chambers are due back on Monday, April 11 to contine negotiations. Speaker of the House Robert Moore (D) maintains the Senate should pass the House-created measure, but Senate members indicate that is unlikely to happen.


Preliminary legislative redistricting maps are expected the week of April 11. This will leave legislators only three weeks to consider the new maps. Although congressional plans are due April 29, state redistricting could be postponed until the 2012 session.


Citing a "glitch" in SB 1, the map authored by Joel Chaisson (D) that was set for a final vote this week, Louisiana's special redistricting session has adjourned until Monday at 2 p.m. The delay brings the legislature dangerously close to the deadline next Wednesday at 6 p.m. The problem surrounds the State House districts. While Chaisson echoed the House's optimism about finishing on time, House Speaker Jim Tucker (R) pushed for the chamber to adjourn and reassess SB 1. Meanwhile, Governor Bobby Jindal (R) has publicly promised to veto any Congressional map that does not maintain two vertical seats in the North with the cities of Monroe and Shreveport each anchoring one. Such an unambiguous statement is a devastating blow for those legislators pushing for plans that gave greater weight to Acadiana in the state's South.


Mississippi's legislative session was due to end on April 2. A Senate-authored resolution, SC 628, extended the session, which the House then approved. SC 628 allows Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant (R) and Speaker of the House William McCoy (D) to meet and attempt to hammer out a solution. It also gives the two men the power to reconvene the legislature through April 11, 2011. Speculation is that it is unlikely the extension will produce a resolution.

The next stage will be for the federal courts to take over redistricting. That leaves open the possibility that Mississippi will have to hold back-to-back state legislative elections both this year and again next fall to accommodate the delay in finalizing maps.

This is the final map as approved by the New Jersey redistricting commission. These districts will be in place until 2020.
Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 14
Next state deadline? Alaska
April 14
Maps submitted for vote: 8 MS (2), LA (3), AR (1), VA (2)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 0
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 1 (NJ)

New Jersey

Step 1 is complete for New Jersey's redistricting process. On Sunday, April 3, the Redistricting Commission approved by a 6-5 vote new state legislative maps for the next decade. Democrats claimed victory in the process, as the 11th and tiebreaking member -- Alan Rosenthal -- sided with the Democratic-introduced map. Republicans contend that while the new map is better than the old one, that they are still disappointed in the decision and are considering a lawsuit. The new map draws several incumbents out of their districts. This has prompted at least three legislators -- Joan Quigley (D), John Girgenti (D) and Jack Conners (D) -- to announce that they will not seek re-election.

New York

A number of Senate Republicans filed a lawsuit on April 4 against the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment and the state Department of Correctional Services for plans to count prisoners at their previous residence. Calling the law unconstitutional, the suit says the U.S. Census does not allow for prisoners to be counted in such a manner. Those filing the suit include Senators Stephen Saland, Joseph Griffo, and Thomas O'Mara. Each senator has prisons in their district. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who sponsored the original legislation, called the suit baseless.

Meanwhile, former New York City mayor Ed Koch continued his campaign to reform redistricting. He sent letters to lawmakers regarding the pledge, thanking those who have helped him while labeling others as "Enemies of Reform." Specifically, Koch called Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) "dishonorable."


The Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission missed the deadline for appointing a 5th member. The first four members -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- could not agree on a fifth member who will serve as chair. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has until May 4 to appoint the fifth commissioner.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is one of three states that have rejected the federal government's free redistricting software, known as TIGER. The Rhode Island State Legislature then filed a request for proposal for a private entity to conduct the work. One company bid $1.5 million. Now, a citizens' watchdog group -- Operation Clean Government (OCG)-- is inquiring as to why the state is willing to spend $1.5 million rather than use the free federal software. Additionally, the OCG expressed concern that if a private entity conducts the map-drawing, that all historical records will be considered private and thus off limits to FOIA requests. Only two other states -- Kentucky and Oregon -- also rejected the TIGER software.

This week in redistricting
Both chambers in Missouri have passed versions of new Congressional maps. The Senate and House bills are similar enough that legislators expect to be able to merge the measures without much controversy. The new map eliminates a district from the St. Louis metropolitan area, likely leaving current Congressman Russ Carnahan as the odd-man-out. Governor Jay Nixon (D) still retains veto-authority over the map.

South Carolina

Over the past few weeks, 10 public hearings were held across the Palmetto State. Among the topics brought up by residents during the public hearings was the placement of the new 7th Congressional district and the division of counties at the state level. Several counties in the state have multiple Senate districts that bisect various communities of interests. Overwhelmingly, residents expressed a desire for more single-county districts if the population allowed. Next week, the redistricting subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee will begin drafting new Congressional and state legislative maps.


With a deadline of May 30 for the Texas State Legislature to complete redistricting, the process is starting to heat up. With four new congressional seats, redistricting is causing a conflict between lawmakers. Put simply, the Hispanic population growth has Republicans concerned about their prospects of gaining new seats. Republicans fear that if district lines are drawn in areas where minorities are the majority, Democrats will gain a significant pull over Republicans. Democrats believe that because of Hispanic population growth they deserve at least two of the seats because Democrats have traditionally carried a majority of the Hispanic vote. A more narrow controversy is occurring between two Republican congressional representatives, Barton (Arlington) and Smith (San Antonio). Smith, the congressional point man on redistricting for Republicans is said to be in support of a 50/50 split of the seats while Barton is pushing for three if not four of the seats to be Republican. Gov. Perry is reportedly backing Barton. If the Texas Legislature cannot agree on boundaries for new districts, then Perry can call for a special session to do so. If this process fails, a state or federal judge would likely draw the districts.

Meanwhile, the House Redistricting Committee approved a map for the 15-member State Board of the Education (SBOE) on April 1, 2011. The next step is for the map to be considered by the full House. The SBOE map was the first map approved by either chamber's redistricting committee in the 2011 Texas redistricting cycle.

Additionally, the second lawsuit in Texas targeting the 2011 redistricting cycle was filed on April 5, 2011. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas requesting that redistricting measures be halted due to alleged misrepresentation of Hispanics. The group claims that rural border communities coined colonias, inhabited largely by poor illegal immigrants, were undercounted because the Census Bureau did not mail forms out to members of the 800 to 1,200 colonias. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office says they have received the litigation and will not comment while the matter pending.


The Virginia State Senate approved a redistricting plan on April 7, 2011 which sets new boundaries for the state's 40 senate districts. The senate merged has their plan and the house plan as House Bill 5001. The combined plan now moves to the house for concurrence where it will be considered on April 11. Any plan passed will ultimately require the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

The senate-approved maps successfully met their variance requirement of 2% or less, with districts averaging a 1.13% (or 2,270-resident) variance. Although the house plan enjoyed bi-partisan support, passing 86-8, the senate plan was approved by a 22-18 margin along partisan lines. Democrats control the Senate by a 22-18 margin. Overall, the senate plan has been more controversial. Republican critics cite a number of divided communities and contorted districts as significant faults. However, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) called the maps "even-handed" and argued that the criticisms were unwarranted.

In addition, a possible congressional redistricting plan has emerged in the Virginia House of Delegates. The plan, submitted by Bill Janis (R), is very similar to the incumbent-friendly maps supported by the congressional delegation. While this lends credibility to the maps, it is not known if the plan is backed by Republican leadership in the house. The General Assembly will begin Congressional Redistricting on April 11, 2011.


A lawsuit was filed in Yakima, Washington over local city council plans. The suit -- filed by Tim Schoenrock -- alleges that the city had been in long-term violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the federal law banning discriminatory voting procedures. Sandoval's argument is that because Hispanics register to vote and exercise that right in lower percentages than whites, the former group is being discriminated against by Yakima's City Council election system. Under the at-large election system, Sandoval alleges, whites are wrongly able to parlay their greater political engagement into more representation on the Council. The lawsuit claims Yakima's 40% Hispanic population is thus underrepresented. The suit requests that the city be divided into seven equal districts, a design that would allow concentrated populations a better chance of electing a member of their own community.

See also