This year could be one of the most consequential years on voting districts as the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts are set to rule on cases involving partisan and racial gerrymandering.
Why it matters: These cases could decide some state voting maps are unconstitutional, which would alter how maps are created and implement a concrete legal standard for determining when redistricting is infected with political bias.
Congressional and legislative districts are drawn every 10 years after the U.S. census, which governs redistricting in each state. Both Democrats and Republicans have used the practice to gain an advantage.
Here are the cases to watch:
- The case: Gill vs. Whitford is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats alleged that Republicans in Wisconsin gerrymandered the electoral map to ultimately give them control of the State Assembly.
- Why it matters: If Democrats succeed, this would be the first time the Supreme Court strikes down a voting map on the grounds of partisan gerrymandering.
- Timeline: A ruling is expected to be made before the end of June. The state appealed a three-judge panel's 2-1 ruling that the legislative redistricting drawn in 2011 was heavily skewed in their favor. In its Nov. 2016 decision, the lower court said Democrats got more votes than Republicans in Assembly races in 2012, yet Republicans were able to claim 60 of the 99 seats. It ordered the state to draw new maps by Nov. 1, a move the U.S. Supreme Court later blocked last June when it agreed to hear the case.
- The case: The case centers on the 6th Congressional District in Western Maryland, which was redrawn in 2011 to include parts of heavily Democratic Montgomery County, The Baltimore Sun reports. Republican voters are arguing that the legislative and executive branches, controlled by Democrats, unfairly drew one of the state's eight congressional districts in their favor.
- Why it matters: Republicans said it diluted their votes and cost an incumbent his seat.
- Timeline: The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case last December, and a decision is expected to be made before the end of June, per The Baltimore Sun. Last August, a three-judge federal court in Maryland ruled against the plaintiffs' request to discontinue the use of the current congressional districts ahead of the 2018 midterm election.
- The case: A Commonwealth Court judge in the state ruled in late December that while the Congressional districts were drawn to give Republicans an advantage, they did not violate the state Constitution as the suit alleged, according to multiple reports. The judge recommended the high court reject the plaintiffs' claims.
- Timeline: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on Jan 17.
- The case: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court's 2016 ruling that 28 of the state's 170 electoral districts drawn by the Republican-led legislature in 2011 were unconstitutional because they diluted the political power of black voters.
- Why it matters: This is not the only effort to diminish the political influence of black voters who overwhelming vote Democratic. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court sustained the lower-court's ruling that the state's 2013 voter ID law and reduction in early voting were unconstitutional and discriminated against blacks "with almost surgical precision."
- Timeline: A three-judge federal court in the state met in December to review a series of proposed legislative district lines drawn by a "special master" the judges appointed last November.
- The case: The Supreme Court of Virginia is reviewing a racially-charged case, known as Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, regarding the 2011 redrawing of the states' House of Delegates district lines.
- Why it matters: The case centers on concerns that the map Virginia's Republican-led legislature drew had deliberately packed black voters together to limit their influence so surrounding districts could be more winnable for GOP lawmakers.
- Timeline: A state federal court in 2015 ruled that race had not been the primary factor. But the U.S. Supreme Court told the lower court last March that the redistricting must be reexamined for racial bias.
- The case: The state's League of Women Voters and 11 Democrats filed a federal suit last December, challenging the congressional and legislative district lines crafted by Michigan's Republican after the 2010 census, per The Associated Press. The plaintiffs asked the court to strike down the maps and ordered new electoral lines if the legislature does not pass a constitutional redistricting plan.
- Why it matters: If the Democrats are successful in this case, it could create an independent commission to draw Michigan's districts.
- Timeline: The suit came days after a Michigan citizen-led group submitted more than 425,000 signatures for a 2018 redistricting ballot reform measure.