GOP asks Supreme Court to remove state level barriers to gerrymandering
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Another Trump judge undermines Voting Rights Act
A Trump-appointed judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ new state House districts this week, undercutting one of the few remaining enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act.
District Judge Lee Rudofsky, nominated by Trump in 2019, had a long history of partisan and restrictive positions as Arkansas solicitor general. He defended discriminatory photo ID laws, opposed LGBTQ equality, and attempted to ban abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Now in a position to enact his views as law, Rudolfsky ruled (pdf) that American citizens cannot bring suit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters from unfair redistricting and voting practices. Instead, he says, only the U.S. Attorney General may bring a case to enforce Section 2.
From what the Court has seen thus far, there is a strong merits case that at least some of the challenged districts in the Board Plan are unlawful under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act. For the reasons discussed below, however, the Court cannot reach the merits. After a thorough analysis of the text and structure of the Voting Rights Act, and a painstaking journey through relevant caselaw, the Court has concluded that this case may be brought only by the Attorney General of the United States.
Legal experts quickly pointed out that Rudolfsky simply pulled this “rule” out of thin air:
No judge has ever — ever — thrown out a Section 2 claim on the grounds that the law barred suits by private plaintiffs. Even Arkansas, whose newly redrawn state legislative district lines were at issue in the case before Rudofsky, didn’t make this argument. Rudofsky raised it on his own…
As a result, unless a higher court overrules Rudolfsky, black Arkansas voters are left with no way to challenge the intentional dilution of their voting power by the Republican legislature.
Further reading: “ACLU comment on Arkansas redistricting ruling,” ACLU.
GOP asks Supreme Court to remove barriers to gerrymandering
Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a controversial theory that would give state legislatures the power to enforce laws and maps that violate the state constitution.
North Carolina Republicans are appealing a redistricting map drawn by the state Supreme Court after it ruled (pdf) that the legislature’s map was a political gerrymander that violated the state constitution. The Republican-drawn boundaries were likely to increase the party’s 8-5 seat advantage to a 10-4 seat advantage.
Pennsylvania Republicans, meanwhile, are challenging a map chosen by the state Supreme Court after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoed the map drawn by the GOP legislature.
The new map was drawn by Jonathan Rodden, a well-known Stanford expert on redistricting and political geography. Rodden drew the map based on the current one, using a “least-change” approach…Looking at the two-party vote share in the two most recent presidential and U.S. Senate elections, The Inquirer classifies six of the districts as strongly Republican, five as strongly Democratic, and three each as leaning Democratic and Republican. Four districts in the new map are so closely divided that either party could realistically win them, the same as in the previous version, and a few others could become competitive in wave elections.
The two states claim that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the sole right to determine the time, place, and manner of holding elections, with no role for state courts. If adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court, this theory—the independent state legislature doctrine—would remove the last check on partisan gerrymandering by rendering state courts powerless.
It could essentially neuter the ability of state courts to protect voters under provisions of state constitutions against infringement of their rights. This would apply not only to redistricting but to laws restricting registration and voting practices. It would allow hostile legislature to run roughshod over legislative rights. It could lead to major voter suppression policed by neither state courts nor federal courts, given the Supreme Court’s shrinking of the federal Voting Rights Act’s protections.