The Federal Tap: House Speaker Pelosi defers infrastructure vote twice

Our weekly summary of federal news highlights updates on the infrastructure bill and the Colorado Redistricting Commission’s approval of a final congressional map. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the Federal Tap.

Congress is in session

Both the House and Senate are in session next week. Click here to see the full calendar for the first session of the 117th Congress.

SCOTUS is in session

The Supreme Court will hear five hours of oral arguments next week. To learn about the 2021-2022 term, click here.

Where was the president last week?

On Monday through Friday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.

Federal Judiciary

  • 86 federal judicial vacancies
  • 24 pending nominations
  • 31 future federal judicial vacancies

Upcoming Article III Judicial Vacancies

According to the latest vacancy data from the U.S. Courts, there were 31 total announced upcoming vacancies for Article III judgeships. No new Article III judges have announced upcoming vacancies since our last report. The earliest vacancy announcement was on Dec. 1, 2020, when U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas Judge Paul K. Holmes announced that he would assume senior status on Nov. 10, 2021. The most recent was on Sept. 20, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh announced her retirement due to her elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Thirteen vacancy effective dates have not been determined because the judges have not announced the date they will leave the bench. The next upcoming vacancy will occur on Oct. 1, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota Judge Jeffrey Viken and U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington Judge Rosanna Peterson assume senior status. As of Sept. 30, 2021, there were 32 total upcoming vacancies announced for the federal judiciary overall.

For historical comparison, the week of September 27-October 3, 2020, there were 64 federal judicial vacancies and four upcoming vacancies in the federal judiciary reported by the U.S. Courts.

SCOTUS releases COVID-19 procedures for oral arguments

SCOTUS released on Sept. 27 new procedures for oral arguments during the term’s October, November, and December sittings, in accordance with the court’s COVID-19 protocols.

According to the clerk of court’s announcement:

  1. Legal counsel presenting their cases in person must take a COVID test the morning before argument.
  2. Attorneys who test positive for COVID will participate remotely via teleconference.
  3. Counsel will be informed of courtroom procedures and may ask questions in the lawyer’s lounge before presenting their case. Argument audio will be made available in the lawyer’s lounge. Counsel must leave the court building once arguments in their case conclude.
  4. Counsel are required to wear masks covering their noses and mouths at all times while within the court building, except when eating or drinking. Counsel are required to wear N95 or KN95 masks in the courtroom, except when presenting arguments. The court will provide masks.

The court released new questioning procedures for oral argument for the 2021 term. At the end of each attorney’s time, the court will ask additional questions justice by justice, in order of seniority.

SCOTUS announced on Sept. 8 that it would hear oral arguments in person for the first time since March 4, 2020. Argument audio will be streamed live to the public, following the precedent set during the 2020-2021 term. Audio files and argument transcripts will be posted on the court’s website following oral argument each day.

Colorado Redistricting Commission approves final congressional map

The Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission approved a final map of the state’s congressional districts on Sept. 28. Eleven of the twelve commissioners agreed on the final vote, satisfying the group’s constitutional requirement of at least eight votes in favor, two of which must come from unaffiliated members. 

This is the state’s first redistricting process using an independent commission after voters approved Amendment Y in 2018. That amendment also requires that the Colorado Supreme Court approve new congressional district boundaries. 

The Denver Post’s Alex Burness said that the approved map “gives comfortable advantages to each of Colorado’s seven incumbent members of Congress — Democrats Joe Neguse, Jason Crow, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter and Republicans Ken Buck, Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn.” Regarding the state’s new eighth district, Burness wrote, “Recent election results suggest the new 8th Congressional District will be a close race in 2022.”

Under Amendment Y, redrawn congressional districts must be competitive, which is defined as having a reasonable potential to change parties at least once every ten years. After the commission approves a final map, it is required to create a report demonstrating the extent to which districts are competitive. The legislature does not approve redrawn congressional districts and the governor cannot veto the plan. It is also not subject to the state’s veto referendum process.

Three states enact new congressional, legislative district maps

Three states—Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon—enacted new congressional and legislative district boundaries this week. In all three states, the maps will take effect for the 2022 congressional and state legislative elections.

Maine: Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed legislation enacting redrawn congressional and state legislative district boundaries on Sept. 29. The Maine legislature unanimously approved the state’s new congressional and state Senate maps. The Senate unanimously approved new state House district boundaries and the Maine House approved them 119-10. A two-thirds majority was required to approve new district boundaries.

Upon signing the new district plans, Gov. Mills released a statement saying, “I applaud Maine’s Apportionment Commission, especially its Chair, former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for preparing and approving new maps that fulfill our commitment to making sure Maine people are equally and fairly represented in their government. To have done so without rancor and partisanship and under a constrained timeline is something Maine people can be proud of.”

Nebraska: The Nebraska State Legislature approved congressional and state legislative redistricting maps on Sept. 30. Shortly after the legislature’s approval, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) signed the maps into law. 

The congressional maps were approved by a 35-11 vote, with all dissenting votes coming from Democrats. All Republicans in attendance voted in favor of the map, along with four Democrats. The state legislative maps were approved by a 37-7 vote. Five of the seven dissenting votes came from Democrats, and two were cast by Republicans. Eight Democrats voted in favor of the maps, along with twenty-nine Republicans.

Following the approval of the maps, Sen. Justin Wayne (D) said: “It was a very frustrating process, but we got to a good result.” Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R), chair of the redistricting committee, expressed approval of the maps and, regarding the possibility of partisan impasse, said she was “constantly reminded how capable Sen. Wayne is” during the negotiations.

Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed new congressional and state legislative maps into law on Sept. 27, making Oregon the first state to enact congressional maps. If the maps are not changed by the state supreme court after any possible legal challenges, this would be the third time since 1910 that Oregon’s redistricting maps were approved by the legislature and governor without alteration.

The congressional maps were approved by the state Senate, 18-6, and the state House of Representatives, 33-16. The state legislative maps were approved by the state senate, 18-11, and the House of Representatives, 31-18. The Oregonian said the map created three safe Democratic seats, one safe Republican seat, one seat that leans Democratic, and one seat that is a toss-up.

​​After signing the maps, Gov. Kate Brown (D) released a statement saying: “My office reviewed the maps contained in the bills passed by the Legislature after they were proposed this weekend. Redistricting is a process that necessarily involves compromise, and I appreciate the Legislature working to balance the various interests of all Oregonians.” Both the enacted congressional and legislative maps were amended after their initial proposal during the redistricting session.

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R) criticized the maps, saying: “This is by no means over. The illegal congressional map adopted today, clearly drawn for partisan benefit, will not survive legal challenge. Political gerrymandering in Oregon is illegal and drawing congressional lines to ensure five out of six seats for your party long-term is gerrymandering.”

House Speaker Pelosi defers infrastructure vote twice

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) deferred a vote on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 twice after half of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) indicated they would not support the bill before the passage of a $3.5 trillion budget bill also being considered by Congress.

Pelosi deferred the infrastructure vote from the initial deadline of Sept. 27 to Sept. 30. She said in an interview, “I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the CPC, said that she believed there were around 60 votes against the bill.

The vote was again deferred after Democrats remained divided. President Joe Biden (D) met with House Democrats on Oct. 1.

Republicans in the House were also split on the bill heading into the vote. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he opposed the bill because of its connection to the budget measure. “You don’t get millions of dollars for roads and broadband. What you get is $5 trillion of more inflation, you get a bigger socialist government, you get harm to our economy,” he said.

Several Republican members of the Problem Solvers Caucus said they would support the bill, including Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Don Bacon (R-Neb.). Reed said, “I am a hard yes on the bipartisan $1.2 trillion deal that got 19 Republican votes in the Senate. It’s a good bill. It’s a compromise bill, and that to me is good legislation—sound policy that I’m proud to support.”