Redistricting lawsuits could shape the 2024 battle for House control
Report by Democratic group tallies 15 states where cases continue
The reconfiguration of political districts after the 2020 census resulted in a flood of legal challenges, some of which remain unresolved and could have big implications for the 2024 congressional elections.
The Democracy Docket, a progressive voting rights site founded by Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias, counted 46 lawsuits filed in 22 states seeking to overturn congressional maps crafted in 2021 and 2022. Some 32 of those lawsuits remain active as of the end of last year.
The 15 states with ongoing litigation include New York and Texas — home to 64 seats combined — along with the battleground state of Georgia. After Republicans flipped nine seats in November, Democrats need to win five back to retake the majority, so redrawn maps could be a factor in shaping party control in the 2024 elections.
"Although redistricting is often described as a 'once every decade' process, that phrasing fails to
capture the ongoing litigation that occurs after maps are enacted," the group states in a report issued this morning. "The release of census data and reapportionment may happen once a decade, but the process of drawing and redrawing lines will continue throughout the following 10 years."
Looking at challenges to both congressional and state legislative maps, the group found that 52 percent of lawsuits — 45 in all — were brought by plaintiffs who cited racial unfairness in the new lines. Almost all of that litigation was brought in the South: Texas led with eight lawsuits alleging state political district maps are racially discriminatory, followed by five in Georgia, four in Alabama and three each in Arkansas, Illinois and Louisiana.
Illinois was a bright spot for Democrats in November. The state lost one seat through reapportionment, but Republicans lost two in November, changing the state's partisan split from a 13-5 Democratic edge last year to a 14-3 advantage in the Congress sworn in this month. Texas gained two seats, and each party picked up one of them. Republicans picked up one seat in Georgia, while there was no change in the partisan makeup of the delegations in Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana.
In Florida, where Republicans won a seat added through reapportionment plus three others that flipped from the Democrats, a judge in May said the map violated a provision of the state constitution. But the ruling was put on hold and the November election went forward using the map, which included lines that split Democratic Rep. Al Lawson's district in the Jacksonville area across three districts.
Twenty-eight challenges were brought by litigants who alleged the political map was drawn to give one party an unfair advantage. Seven of those partisan gerrymandering lawsuits were brought in Ohio, four in Maryland and three each in Kansas, North Carolina and Oregon.
Twenty lawsuits made various other claims, including that the districts did not conform to political boundaries or were not "compact," as required by law in some states. Other challenges were based on alleged procedural violations, such as failing to hold public meetings as part of the process.
Of all the legal challenges related to congressional redistricting in 2020, just four resulted in new maps for the 2022 election. The states that saw their maps redrawn were Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.
In addition to the redistricting cases that are pending in state courts, voting rights activists are watching two cases on the U.S. Supreme Court docket. Merrill v. Milligan turns on the question of whether the state of Alabama violated the Voting Rights Act when it approved a congressional map that created one majority Black district, rather than two.
The second case, Moore v. Harper, involves a dispute over North Carolina's 14 congressional districts. Republican state legislators argued that the state Supreme Court does not have the power to throw out the congressional map drawn by state lawmakers. The case is built on the “independent state legislature theory” and it could allow state lawmakers nationwide to upend election laws.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in both cases last year and is expected to issue its rulings before the term ends in June.