Gerrymandering lawsuits linger as next redistricting nears
By David A. Lieb
As the 2019 state legislative sessions get underway, a busy year of legal battles also is beginning over lingering allegations that hundreds of electoral districts across the country were illegally drawn to the disadvantage of particular voters or political parties.
First up was a court hearing Thursday in Virginia, where a federal judicial panel reviewed several proposals from an outside expert to redraw some state House districts. The court had previously determined that those districts were racially gerrymandered.
The expert, University of California, Irvine political science professor Bernard Grofman, answered questions about his revisions.
“My focus was on remedying constitutional infirmities,” he said.
Next on the schedule is a February trial in Michigan, where a lawsuit by Democratic voters alleges U.S. House and state legislative districts were illegally gerrymandered by Republican officials to dilute the voting power of Democrats. A similar partisan gerrymandering trial is scheduled for March involving Ohio’s congressional districts.
The U.S. Supreme Court also has agreed to hear arguments in March on separate cases appealing rulings of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts by Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland.
Then a new trial is scheduled for April in Wisconsin in a case in which federal judges previously determined that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered the state Assembly districts to the disadvantage of Democrats.
The pending lawsuits are contesting districts drawn based off 2010 Census data. They seek to force new district boundaries before the next legislative elections. But depending on the timing and scope of the rulings, they also could set precedents for states to follow during the next round of mandatory redistricting that will occur after the 2020 Census.
Here’s a look at the pending redistricting case in Michigan:
Partisan breakdown: U.S. House: seven Republicans, seven Democrats. State Senate: 22 Republicans, 16 Democrats. State House: 58 Republicans, 52 Democrats.
The claim: Partisan gerrymandering.
The case: A federal trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 5 on a lawsuit by Democratic voters alleging that Michigan’s U.S. House and state legislative districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered to dilute the voting power of Democrats. The districts were enacted in 2011 by a Republican governor and Republican-led Legislature. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in the November elections creating an independent commission to handle redistricting after the 2020 Census.