Quarterly Redistricting Update: October 2014

Florida Fair Districts Case

In early July, a circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled Florida’s congressional map did indeed violate the state’s Fair Districts amendments outlawing partisan influenced linedrawing. The 5th and 10th congressional districts were singled out by the court as requiring modification. The judge added that Florida’s Republican legislature made a “mockery” of the Fair Districts Amendments and used political consultants on the sly to draw the map.

In early August, the legislature approved a new map, which made changes to 7 districts in total – but Common Cause, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says the map does not go far enough; “Map 9057 continues to use a minority-marginalizing relic of an era in which political gerrymandering was acceptable.” Democrats in the legislature and the state NAACP supported the redrawn map however.

The court ultimately approved the legislature’s redrawn map but due to timing, it ordered the previous map be used for elections later in the year; the new map will go into effect for 2016.

Texas Redistricting Saga Continues

The epic redistricting legal battle in Texas has geared up once again as plaintiffs pick up the pieces after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County, but first a quick refresher:

  1. Texas draws redistricting maps
  2. It gets sued for minority vote dilution under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act
  3. Plaintiffs include League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the TX House of Representatives MALC)
  4. A court panel in San Antonio makes a preliminary finding of discriminatory intent and draws “interim maps” as the 2012 primaries near.
  5. Texas appeals to the Supreme Court
  6. The Supreme Court in a swift decision, chides the San Antonio panel for drawing interim maps that significantly deviate from the legislature’s enacted maps. In its opinion, the interim maps should have given more deference to the legislature’s policy decisions when drawing the original maps until a final ruling in the case is made.
  7. The San Antonio court complies and produces interim maps that more closely parallel the legislature’s.
  8. The Supreme Court stuns some in the voting rights community by invalidating section 4b of the Voting Rights Act: this section contains the list of jurisdictions in the country that must get preapproval for any and all voting procedure changes. Texas was on this list, but because the list was declared unconstitutional, the preclearance requirements of the Act are null and void.
  9. Texas enacts the San Antonio court’s revised interim maps as the state’s new redistricting maps and asks the court to declare the case moot, since a ‘court-drawn’ plan is now the law of Texas.

Fast forward to the present and plaintiffs say not so fast, those interim maps are still based on maps that were drawn with discriminatory intent and they plan to prove it. Specifically, they are asking the court to return Texas to the oversight scheme they were under before the Shelby County decision. This is possible under another, unaffected Voting Rights Act provision (sec. 3) that allows courts to require preclearance oversight over jurisdictions they find have intentionally discriminated against minority groups in an election.

They say “Texas acted with “discriminatory intent” in adopting the interim maps and that state lawmakers will probably draw similarly biased districts after the trial concludes unless the court intervenes.” They point to “smoking gun” emails that they say show proof of intentional discrimination when drawing the original maps that the court’s interim maps are heavily based on.

North Carolina Map

In North Carolina, state Democratic lawmakers and the North Carolina NAACP; plaintiffs in an almost three year old redistricting case say 30 legislative and congressional districts in the 2011 maps approved by the North Carolina legislature dilute minority voting strength by packing African-American voters into too few districts. In July 2013, three Superior Court judges ruled unanimously in favor of the legislature, concluding that even though race was considered in the design of districts, it was done to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The case is now in the state supreme court, where it has been pending since July.

Yakima, Washington

In August a federal court ruled that the Yakima city council’s at-large method of voting discriminates against Hispanic voters in the city. The Yakima council announced it would comply with the court’s decision and produced a new plan.

The city rejected the ACLU’s proposed map. Yakima’s proposed map would create five single-member districts and two at-large positions.

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