Latest stories

Federal court strikes down Michigan state legislative and congressional district maps as partisan gerrymanders

On April 25, 2019, a three-judge panel of the United District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled unanimously that 34 congressional and state legislative districts had been subject to unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, violating Democrats’ First Amendment associational rights. The court also found that 27 of the 34 challenged districts violated the Democrats’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by diluting the impact of their votes. The challenged districts are listed below:
Congressional districts 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12
State Senate districts 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 18, 22, 27, 32, and 36
State House districts 24, 32, 51, 52, 55, 60, 62, 63, 75, 76, 83, 91, 92, 94, and 95
The court enjoined the use of any challenged districts in future elections. The court also ordered that special elections be conducted in 2020 for the challenged state Senate districts and any adjoining districts whose boundaries might be affected by remedial maps. The court directed the state legislature to adopt remedial maps for the challenged districts on or before August 1, 2019.
Judge Eric Clay, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton (D), wrote the following in the court’s opinion and order: “Today, this Court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. We find that the Enacted Plan violates Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it deliberately dilutes the power of their votes by placing them in districts that were intentionally drawn to ensure a particular partisan outcome in each district. The Enacted Plan also injures Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to association by discriminating against them and their political party and subjecting them to ‘disfavored treatment by reason of their views.'” Judges Denise Hood and Gordon Quist, appointed to the bench by Presidents Clinton and George H. W. Bush (R), respectively, joined Clay’s opinion.
Charlie Spies, an attorney representing Michigan Republicans, said the following to The Detroit News: “We will likely see a stay and urge caution in drawing conclusions from this opinion, which we believe is at odds with where the Supreme Court will end up.”
All 38 seats in the Michigan State Senate were up for election in 2018 and are not scheduled to be up for election again until 2022.
Michigan is one of 14 states with divided government – both chambers of the legislature have Republican majorities while the governorship is held by Gretchen Whitmer (D).
Case background
  • December 22, 2017, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, along with a group of state Democrats, filed suit in federal court alleging that Michigan’s congressional and state legislative district plans represented unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders (i.e., the plaintiffs argued that the state’s district maps gave an unfair advantage to Republicans over Democrats).
  • December 27, 2017, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued an order that a three-judge panel be convened to hear the case.
  • February 1, 2019, the court rejected a proposed settlement in which maps for some state House districts would be redrawn in advance of the 2020 election. State Republicans petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to delay lower court proceedings pending the high court’s rulings in Lamone v. Benisek and Rucho v. Common Cause.
  • February 4, 2019, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied this request, clearing the way for a trial to commence on February 5, 2019.
The phrase partisan gerrymandering refers to the practice of drawing electoral district maps with the intention of favoring one political party over another. In contrast with racial gerrymandering, on which issue the Supreme Court of the United States has made rulings in the past affirming that such practices violate federal law, the high court has not, to date, made a ruling establishing clear precedent on the question of partisan gerrymandering. Two partisan gerrymandering cases – Rucho v. Common Cause and Benisek v. Lamone – are pending before the high court this term. Rulings are expected by the end of June.

Special election to be held April 30 to fill vacant Wisconsin State Assembly seat

A special election is being held for District 64 of the Wisconsin State Assembly on April 30. Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Tip McGuire (D) and Mark Stalker (R), a former Kenosha school board member, are running in the general election.
The seat became vacant when Peter Barca (D) stepped down in January 2019 after Gov. Tony Evers (D) nominated him as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Barca had served in the state Assembly since 2008.
Prior to the special election, the Wisconsin State Assembly has 35 Democrats, 63 Republicans, and one vacancy. A majority in the chamber requires 50 seats. Wisconsin has a divided government, meaning no political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Federal Register weekly update; lowest weekly final rule total since January

The Federal Register is a daily journal of federal government activity that includes presidential documents, proposed and final rules, and public notices. It is a common measure of an administration’s regulatory activity.
During the week of April 22 to April 26, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,330 pages, bringing the year-to-date total to 17,930 pages. This week’s Federal Register featured a total of 498 documents, including 411 notices, one presidential document, 41 proposed rules, and 45 final rules.
One final rule was deemed significant under E.O. 12866—meaning that it may have a large impact on the economy, environment, public health, or state or local governments. Significant actions may also conflict with presidential priorities or other agency rules.
During the same week in 2018, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,112 pages. As of April 26, the 2019 total trailed the 2018 total by 796 pages.
The Trump administration has added an average of 1,055 pages to the Federal Register each week in 2019 as of April 26. In 2018, the Trump administration added an average of 1,301 pages to the Federal Register each week. Over the course of the Obama administration, the Federal Register increased by an average of 1,658 pages per week.
According to government data, the Federal Register hit an all-time high of 95,894 pages in 2016.
Click here to find yearly information about additions to the Federal Register from 1936 to 2016:,_1936-2016

SCOTUS hears oral arguments in challenge to census citizenship question

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in Department of Commerce v. New York, a case challenging the addition of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census. The question asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approved the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census in March. Four federal judges had blocked the question from appearing on 2020 census forms as of April 2019.
The court considered a constitutional argument against the question in addition to claims that the steps taken by the U.S. Department of Commerce to add the question violated administrative procedure under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The constitutional argument alleges that the citizenship question is unconstitutional because it prevents the federal government from carrying out its duty under the U.S. Constitution’s Enumeration Clause to count every person living in the United States every 10 years, which could distort the proper apportionment of congressional representatives.
The administrative procedure challenge claims that, according to the administrative record, the process followed by the agency to add the citizenship question to the census was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA.
An analysis of the hearing by SCOTUSblog predicted a 5-4 decision to uphold the citizenship question with the justices divided along ideological lines. A ruling is expected in June.

School board recall effort begins in California

An effort to recall three of the five members of the Antelope Valley Union High School District Board of Trustees in California started in April. Board President Robert Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin, and Clerk Amanda Parrell were targeted for recall due to allegations of excessive, unnecessary, and duplicative expenditures, troubling contracts with friends and associates, a failure to support student families, and a lack of respect toward members of the community according to the notice of intent to recall filed with the county.
In response to the recall, Davis said that the board had a new vision for the district and that change was hard to accept. He said he believed the board was on the right track.
Ruffin and Parrell were first elected to the board on November 6, 2018. Davis was first elected to the board on November 3, 2015.
If the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk approves the recall petitions, recall supporters will have 160 days to collect signatures from 10% of registered voters in each of the board member’s districts. A total of 3,982 signatures are needed from Davis’ district, 3,416 signatures are needed from Parrell’s district, and 3,694 signatures are needed from Ruffin’s district.
Ballotpedia has tracked six school board recall efforts targeting 13 board members so far in 2019.
In 2018, Ballotpedia covered a total of 206 recall efforts against 299 elected officials. Of the 123 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 77 were recalled for a rate of 62.6 percent. That was higher than the 56.9 percent rate and 56.3 percent rate for 2017 and 2016 recalls, respectively.

Federal judge blocks Trump administration restrictions on abortion access

U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian issued a preliminary injunction to block a new Trump administration rule aimed at keeping Title X fund recipients from engaging in abortion-related activities. Preliminary injunctions keep a new rule from going into effect while a court decides how to resolve legal challenges brought against it. In this case, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule prohibiting the use of Title X funds to perform, promote, or refer for abortion as a family planning method. The rule also requires clear financial and physical separation for clinics conducting Title X and non-Title X activities.
Judge Bastian argued that his injunction was appropriate because the plaintiffs in the case presented facts and arguments supporting the claims that the rule would violate existing laws and regulations, was made in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and would cause Title X fund recipients to suffer irreparable harm. Bastian also said that the state of Washington showed that it stood to lose over $28 million dollars in savings because “it is not legally or logistically feasible for Washington to continue accepting any Title X funding subject to the Final Rule.” He said one of the plaintiffs, the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, represents over 65 Title X grant recipients and that many members of their network would leave once the final rule went into effect, “thereby leaving low-income individuals without Title X providers.” The Title X rule is scheduled to go into effect on May 3, 2019, and more lawsuits against the rule are pending in other courts.
Judge Bastian devoted most of his analysis to the likely effects of the final rule, but his order granting the injunction also mentions the arbitrary-or-capricious test. Under the APA, courts reviewing agency decisions must rule against actions found to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. The people challenging the rule argued that it was “arbitrary and capricious because it reverses long-standing positions of the Department without proper consideration of sound medical opinions and the economic and non-economic consequences.”
Additional reading:

Tate Reeves launches first campaign ad in Mississippi Republican gubernatorial primary

Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves released the first campaign ad in Mississippi’s Republican gubernatorial primary. In the ad, Reeves said that he would help Mississippi reach its full potential by cutting regulations, lowering taxes, and training the workforce. He said Attorney General Jim Hood (D), who is running in the Democratic primary, would not help the state reach its potential.
Reeves faces two challengers in the August 6 primary: state Rep. Robert Foster and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. Media outlets have cast Reeves as the frontrunner due to his fundraising ($6.7 million in cash on hand as of January 1), his 15 years as a statewide officeholder, and his endorsements, including the support of sitting Gov. Phil Bryant (R). If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on August 6, a runoff will be held August 27.
Foster says he is a conservative outsider who is not beholden to any groups at the state capitol. He criticized Reeves for his long tenure in office, saying, “I would like to ask [Reeves]: How many favors does he have? How many promises has he made, in order to build up a $7 million campaign fund?”
Waller says he would be a stronger candidate than Reeves in the general election if Hood (who has been in office since 2004) is the Democratic candidate. Waller criticizes Reeves for his opposition to increasing the state gas tax to pay for infrastructure repairs. Four former state GOP chairmen endorsed Waller and criticized Reeves for his leadership style.
Reeves’ campaign responded to a Mississippi Today report highlighting support for his opponents by saying, “More than 300 conservative Mississippi leaders have endorsed Tate Reeves, including the governor. That didn’t get covered by Mississippi Today because it showed the party is united not divided. Hundreds more conservatives turned out for rallies and events across the state last week. The Republican Party is going to nominate the proven conservative in this race, and that’s Tate Reeves.”
Additional reading:

First debate held in Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial primary

Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial candidates Rocky Adkins, Andy Beshear, and Adam Edelen participated in a debate at Transylvania University hosted by Hey Kentucky! and LEX18.
Daniel Desrochers of the Lexington Herald Leader described the debate as light on conflict. He wrote that the buildup to the debate “suggested there might be fireworks. It was more like sparklers.”
The primary election will take place on May 21. Geoff Young is also on the Democratic ballot but did not participate in the debate. Governor Matt Bevin faces state Rep. Robert Goforth, Ike Lawrence, and William Woods in the Republican primary election.
The general election will take place on November 5. It is one of three gubernatorial elections on the ballot this year. The others are in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Heading into the election, Kentucky is a Republican trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Kentucky State Legislature. As of February 2019, there were 22 Republican trifectas, 14 Democratic trifectas, and 14 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control.
Additional reading:

Virginia Beach holding 3 regular and 3 special elections in 2019

The city of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is holding regular elections for clerk of court and two positions on the Virginia Dare Soil and Water Conservation District on November 5, 2019, as well as a special election for treasurer after the 2018 retirement of John Atkinson, who served in the position for 41 years. Atkinson’s son—Clay Atkinson—filed in the election and faces interim incumbent Leigh Henderson.
Two additional special elections will be held on November 5 for the Beach District and Rose Hall District seats on the Virginia Beach City Council. In the Beach District, Councilman David Nygaard was removed from office on March 19 after local judges ruled he did not meet the residency requirements to fill the seat. He was first elected to the position on November 6, 2018. On April 23, the council appointed interim member Guy Tower to serve until the November election.
Councilwoman Shannon Kane also resigned from her position as representative of the Rose Hall District on April 6, 2019. According to WAVY, Kane purchased a home outside of the district and was moving immediately. She also filed to seek election to the Virginia House of Delegates to represent District 21 and is running in the general election on November 5, 2019. The council has until May 7 to choose Kane’s successor.
The filing deadline for clerk of court and city treasurer was March 28, and a primary election for these positions is on June 11. The candidate filing deadline for the Virginia Dare District members and independent candidates for all races is June 11, and the filing deadline for the special city council elections is August 16.

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) launches third presidential bid

Joe Biden (D) announced Thursday that he was running for president of the United States, marking the third presidential bid by the former vice president. He joins a crowded primary field with 20 other notable Democratic elected officials and public figures running.
Biden framed his campaign as a direct challenge to President Donald Trump (R). “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation—who we are—and I cannot stand by and watch that happen,” he said in his announcement video.
Greg Schultz, who served as Ohio state director for former President Barack Obama (D), will manage Biden’s campaign. Other senior advisers include Kate Bedingfield as communications director, Pete Kavanaugh as deputy campaign manager, Erin Wilson as national political director, and Olympian Michelle Kwan as surrogates director.
Fourteen vice presidents have reached the Oval Office in U.S. history, nine by succession and five by election.