The battle for control of the House is increasingly looking like a sporting event, with teams still changing the size of the playing field after games have started.
As many as a dozen or more states could redraw congressional boundaries again before the 2024 election, enough to alter the balance of power in the House, where the two parties have only managed to eke out a mirror-image five-seat majority in the past two years. in the election.
Experts agree that following the decennial redistricting of congressional districts following the 2020 census, it is unprecedented in modern times for so many House seats to remain in flux for such an extended period of time.
While it’s unlikely these states will end up drawing new boundaries, state and federal litigation and shifts in the balance of power in state legislatures and courts actually ensure that an unusually large number of districts in 2024 may look different than they did in 2022, yes. Control of the House of Representatives has had a huge impact. “It’s just trench warfare back and forth,” said Kelly Burton, chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the main Democratic group involved in congressional redistricting.
The possibility that so many states could still reconfigure their House districts reflects uncertainty in the political system as the Supreme Court hears major cases that will affect future voting challenges, challenges to the congressional map, and state Supreme Court challenges to police partisanship. The authority of gerrymandering. “Until we determine what the Supreme Court did in both cases, we’re on hold,” said University of North Florida political scientist Nick Seabrook, author of two books on the history of gerrymandering. author.
Possibly just as important, though, is each side’s growing determination to leverage every potential advantage in the bitter battle for control of the House — an attitude that encourages both sides to fight in ways that neither side considered not so long ago. “What’s happening is politics has become more competitive and more connected, the stakes are higher for all these voters, all the old norms have just been eroded,” said Rep. Tom Davis, a former Republican who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. “There are no more rules…might is right.”
In the civics textbook version, redistricting happens every ten years. The census signals population shifts between states; the number of congressional seats in each state is then redistributed accordingly; and finally, state legislatures or nonpartisan committees in some states draw new congressional districts to reflect changes in state populations , in time for the first election after the decennial census. These boundaries will theoretically remain in place until the next census, eight years after the first election.
In the modern era, however, more legal and political conflict over redistricting is spilling over traditional timelines.
Overall, most experts agree that the 2020 map produces fairer constituencies than maps produced after 2010, when Republicans swept control of state government in that year’s “Tea Party” election and took advantage of it. Powers imposed a map of gross gerrymandering in several areas. state. “These maps keep the House competitive because they’re fairer,” Burton said.
However, Burton calculated that the outcome of an unusually large number of redistricting fights could affect control of as many as 15-19 House seats, which could change judgments about the fairness of the 2020 process.
Through the work of the NDRC (founded by former President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder) and other groups, Democrats have more systematically influenced redistricting after 2020 than after 2010. But even so, Republicans now have the surest chance of picking up seats from the ongoing redistricting process, which is crucial to cementing their razor-thin 222-seat majority in the House.
The biggest shift could come in North Carolina, where the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected congressional maps drawn up by the Republican-controlled state legislature in recent years, arguing that partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution. Democrats split the state’s 14 congressional seats 7-7 in last November’s election, according to the court map. But in that election, Republicans won a majority on the state Supreme Court. So local observers expect the Republican legislature (which has applied to the new court to overturn its earlier ruling) to impose a map that would allow Republicans to win at least 10 seats, maybe 11. “Republicans are going to go as far as they can go,” said Catawba College politics department chair Michael Bitzer, who blogs about North Carolina politics. “That would result in losing four seats to Republicans in this state alone.”
Likewise, a shift in the ideological balance of Ohio’s Supreme Court could allow the Republican-controlled legislature to draw new maps, allowing the GOP to expand its current 10-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation. Kyle Kondik, editor-in-chief of Sabato’s Crystal Ball election newsletter at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, calculated that Republicans could pick up as many as six congressional seats in those two states alone.
Compared with Republicans’ near-certain gains in the redistricting process, the biggest chance for Democrats revolves around lawsuits challenging Republicans under the Voting Rights Act. If Democrats and civil rights groups win the cases, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama would need to create one more district, each supporting a black candidate, while Texas might need to create three Or more constituencies that support minority candidates.
Lower courts have already ruled in favor of Democrats in the first three states. But Georgia courts stopped short of ordering new maps, while in Alabama and Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked lower court rulings on the grounds that the election was too close and allowed states to proceed along contested lines in 2022. Vote to change them. The rulings could give Republicans three seats in the 2022 election.
Now, in Merrill v. Milligan, the Supreme Court is deciding the fundamental question of whether the Republican map in Alabama actually violated the Voting Rights Act, a decision that could affect other challenged State results, as excellently. Republican-appointed judges have repeatedly weakened the VRA in a series of rulings in recent years, and many observers expect them to use the Alabama case again to do so. “It seems unlikely to me that the Supreme Court will say, ‘Go to the South and draw more black districts,’” said Michael Lee, senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice and an expert on redistricting. .
In addition to the VRA suit, Democrats are making other allegations of racial bias in federal lawsuits targeting South Carolina and Florida sanctioned district lines. But those cases also face an uncertain outlook as the ultimate endpoint of any federal lawsuit remains the Republican Supreme Court majority.
As the Supreme Court limits federal access, Democrats have turned more to state court cases that challenge unfairly divided maps, arguing they violate state constitutions. “State courts have proven to be surprisingly fertile ground for this,” Lee said. “Courts in both Republican and Democratic states are willing to overturn the ruling party’s map.”
In the second half of the 2010s, Democrats won four such state challenges, making the Republican-drawn congressional map an unfair partisan divider in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia calculates that the court-imposed new congressional map gave Democrats an additional six seats in Congress; Seats, those judicial interventions to undo Republican gerrymandering may be enough to cost the Republicans their majority at this point.
Since 2020, state court intervention has gone both ways. In North Carolina, as noted above, courts have blocked Republican gerrymandering; but state courts have also struck down Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland, and especially New York, while refusing to intervene in the state’s efforts to prevent Republicans from being drawn by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. Aggressive Florida gerrymandering planned. Some observers see a possible reversal in control of the House of Representatives, as the Democratic-majority high court in New York overturned a gerrymandering process by the party while the Republican-majority high court in Florida did not. “If you look at the current [House] Margin, almost all of them are Florida and New York,” Seabrook said.
Cases challenging congressional gerrymandering for violating state law are currently pending in Florida, Utah and New Mexico (the latter being a Republican challenge). In Arkansas, Democrats are mounting state and federal challenges to the congressional map. Ben Wikler, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said the state could also sue if Democrats win a majority on the state Supreme Court in Wisconsin’s closely watched elections this spring. “Wisconsin is a 50-50 state with six Republicans and two Democrats in Congress,” he said.
Another wild card is New York, where the Democratic-controlled Supreme Court, known there as the New York State Court of Appeals, struck down the legislature’s gerrymandering in a 4-3 decision last year and drew new maps that help Republicans made unexpected gains across the state last fall. Now, though, there’s an uphill battle over the court’s ideological outlook: Democrats in the state Senate appear likely to prevent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul from nominating a conservative to fill the vacancy. Some local observers believe that if she ends up appointing a more liberal judge, state Democrats could conceivably try to draw the line again; Best chance for new seats in state and Ohio re-districts.
Another high-impact Supreme Court case looms over the growing role of state courts in the redistricting battle. In a North Carolina case (Moore v. Harper), courts could use the so-called “independent state legislature” doctrine to limit or even prohibit state courts from overturning state legislatures’ control over congressional maps (and other aspects of federal election administration). Decide.)
Over the past decade, Republican-appointed Supreme Court majorities have ended Justice Department pre-review of congressional maps (and other election rules) in states with a history of discrimination, ruling that federal courts cannot use maps that constitute unfair Partisanship grounds for overturning map injustice. Now, between the Alabama case and the North Carolina ruling, Republican justices can block the two remaining avenues Democrats use to challenge an unfairly divided congressional map. “The outcome of both cases could be unfavorable to opponents of racism or partisanship,” Seabrook said. “The question is: how bad is it.”
The answer for years to come could determine control of the House, which now looks on a knife’s edge between the two parties.
But if the Supreme Court proceeds to dismantle the guardrails against an overly partisan map, there will be implications for voters beyond which party benefits. Fewer restrictions on gerrymandering mean more seats that almost guarantee a candidate from one party or the other. In other words, more seats are picked by politicians than voters. “The concern,” said former Republican Representative Davis, “is that you’re taking voters out of the equation.”