state legislative redistricting

In Abbott v. Perez a number of persons and advocacy groups challenged the Texas Legislature’s 2011 state legislative and congressional redistricting plan claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011 a three-judge district court issued a remedial redistricting plan which the U.S. Supreme Court vacated in 2012. The district court then drew another remedial redistricting plan which the state legislature adopted in 2013.               

In this case the challengers claim that the plan as adopted by the state legislature still has the “taint of discriminatory intent” of the 2011 legislative plan. The district court agreed despite the fact that it is the author of 2013 plan. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case.

In a 7-1 decision in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections the Supreme Court rejected the notions that race predominates in redistricting only when there is an actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race and that the predominance analysis should apply only to new district lines that appear to deviate from traditional redistricting criteria.

Regarding District 75, where the lower court determined race did predominate, the Supreme Court agreed the State’s use of race was narrowly tailored because it had “good reasons to believe” that a target of a 55% black voting-age population (BVAP) was necessary to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect their preferred candidate.

CSG Midwest
In November 2016, a panel of federal district judges struck down Wisconsin’s 2011 state legislative district maps as an unconstitutional gerrymander. “It is clear that the drafters got what they intended to get,” Judge Kenneth Ripple wrote in the 2-1 decision. “There is no question that Act 43 was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared with Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.”

In what has been described as the most important “one-person, one-vote” case since the Supreme Court adopted the principle over 50 years ago, the Court held that states may apportion state legislative districts based on total population. Local governments may do the same.  

The Court’s opinion in Evenwel v. Abbott is unanimous. All 50 states currently use total population to design state legislative districts; only seven adjust the census numbers “in any meaningful way.”   

In Reynold v. Sims (1964) the Court established the principle of “one-person, one-vote” requiring state legislative districts to be apportioned equally so that votes would have equal weight. The question in this case is what population is relevant—total population or voter-eligible population. Total population includes numerous people who cannot vote—notably non-citizens and children.

Following the 2010 census Texas redrew its State Senate districts using total-population. The maximum total-population deviation between districts was about 8 percent (up to 10 percent is presumed constitutional); the maximum eligible-voters deviation between districts exceeded 40 percent.

Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion concluding Texas may redistrict using total population is “based on constitutional history, this Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice.”

The irony of the Supreme Court agreeing to decide Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is inescapable. On June 29 in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission the Court held that Arizona’s redistricting commission could be solely responsible for congressional redistricting. In the first sentence of its opinion the Court noted Arizona voters adopted the commission to avoid partisan gerrymandering. The next day the Court agreed to decide Harris where the plaintiffs allege that Arizona’s redistricting commission engaged in partisan gerrymandering in state legislative redistricting that violated one-person, one-vote.  

It is noteworthy that the Harris plaintiffs don’t object to partisan gerrymander per se (which the Supreme Court has never held unconstitutional), just partisan gerrymandering that leads to unequal distribution of voters.