Redistricting review – a summary of this week’s map-making news

During this year and next, state legislators, governors, and special redistricting commissions will draft and implement new congressional and state legislative district maps that will be used for the next 10 years. We’ll bring you regular updates here in the Brew about all of the many redistricting goings-on. The pace is expected to be fast-and-furious in the coming months.

Ohio: On May 12, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was scheduled to hear oral argument in Ohio v. Coggins, in which Ohio officials are seeking to force the U.S. Census Bureau to release redistricting data to the states ahead of its September 30 target date.

On Feb. 25, 2021, the state filed its lawsuit against the Census Bureau in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers said, “The unavailability of decennial census data irreparably harms the State: the Ohio Constitution requires the State to use decennial census data during redistricting if the data is available, and allows the use of alternative data sources only as a second-best option. By blocking the State from conducting redistricting using decennial census data, the Census Bureau’s decision prevents the State from conducting redistricting in the constitutionally preferred manner.” The state asked that the court “issue an injunction either prohibiting the defendants from delaying the release of Ohio’s redistricting data beyond March 31, 2021, or else requiring the defendants to provide the State with Ohio’s population data at the earliest date this Court deems equitable.”

Judge Thomas Rose, a George W. Bush (R) appointee, dismissed the lawsuit on March 24, 2021, writing, “The Court will therefore reject Ohio’s request for an order that pretends that the Census Bureau could provide census-based redistricting data by March 31, 2021. The Court cannot ‘order a party to jump higher, run faster, or lift more than she is physically capable.’” The next day, the state appealed Rose’s decision to the Sixth Circuit.

A similar lawsuit is pending in Alabama.

Virginia: On April 26, 2021, state Delegate Lee Carter (D) sent a letter to Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and asked for a formal opinion as to the “constitutionality of the 2021 elections for the House of Delegates being conducted under electoral districts established in 2011.” Carter asked Herring to address the following issues:

1. “The Constitutional authority, if any such authority exists, under which the Virginia Department of Elections is currently conducting the 2021 House of Delegates elections for the electoral districts established in 2011.”

2. “Whether, in the absence of timely data from the United States Census Bureau, the Virginia Redistricting Commission is Constitutionally bound to establish new electoral districts with the best available population data for the House of Delegates elections in the year 2021 and in each tenth subsequent year thereafter.”

As of May 6, 2021, Herring had not responded to Carter’s request for an opinion.

Additional reading: