The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear partisan gerrymandering cases coming from North Carolina and Maryland. Voting rights advocates have for years tried to get the Supreme Court to rein in partisan gerrymandering. However, now that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was seen as a potential swing vote on the issue, has been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it’s also possible that the justices are taking up the cases to declare that courts should not be in the business of policing partisan gerrymandering. Both cases are appeals of lawsuits where the lower courts threw out legislative maps on the basis of partisan gerrymandering.
House Democrats kicked off a new Congress last week with the introduction of a sweeping democracy reform bill. The legislation, which Mitch McConnell has already said he won’t bring up for a vote in the Senate, includes a smorgasbord of proposals championed by voting rights advocates, including automatic voter registration, a mandate that states allow early voting, independent redistricting commissions to limit partisan gerrymandering, and an overhaul of campaign finance regulations. It does not, however, include legislation to fix a Voting Rights Act provision gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court. I wrote on Friday about how the new bill, nonetheless, gets the ball rolling on restoring the VRA.
The new Congress was sworn in on Thursday without a representative from North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, the site of the biggest election fraud scandal in years. Republican Mark Harris — who unofficially won the race but whose victory hasn’t been certified by the state elections board due to allegations that an illegal absentee ballot scheme was run on his behalf — is now suing to force the state to certify his election.
In December, North Carolina’s GOP legislature was also able to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto to implement a voter ID law. After an appeals court struck down a voter ID law in 2016 — it was part of a package of voter restrictions that a court said targeted minority voters with almost “surgical precision” — North Carolina Republicans got on the ballot a constitutional amendment for voter ID that voters approved last fall.
We’re waiting for U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to hand down his decision in the census citizenship question case. While some federal judges postponed cases involving the Justice Department due to the partial government shutdown, Furman on Wednesday made clear the shutdown will not delay his proceedings. Meanwhile, a notice in the federal register last month indicated that Census Bureau was still looking to work with state redistricting officials if they wanted the citizenship data for drawing maps, which could usher in an attempt to exclude noncitizens from redistricting in certain places.
A new Census director was confirmed by the Senate Thursday night. Director Steven Dillingham was far less controversial nominee than the first potential director, Tom Brunell, who was withdrawn from consideration after scrutiny of his record of promoting Republican-boosting gerrymandering.
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