Partisan Gerrymandering Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Rucho v. Common Cause, a highly-anticipated case stemming from legal challenges to the purported partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts in Maryland and North Carolina. 

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Consequently, gerrymandering can only be addressed or resolved through action from Congress or individual states, and the drawing of highly partisan legislative districts, which have increasingly raised political ire in recent years, can no longer be challenged in the courts solely on political grounds.

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing electoral district boundaries in a way that gives one party a distinct advantage over its rivals. Gerrymandering is by no means a new phenomenon – its roots trace back to the first US congressional elections.  In recent years, however, both political parties have taken advantage of control over various state legislatures to craft electoral maps strengthening their opportunity for political success in future years.  In the Rucho case, the districts at issue were the most recently-drawn congressional boundaries in the states of North Carolina and Maryland.  In North Carolina, litigants challenged the legitimacy of Republican-drawn districts that disadvantaged Democrat prospects in federal elections.  Similarly, in Maryland, litigants objected to the imbalance of congressional lines drawn by state Democrats to the disadvantage of Republicans.

Despite the balanced posture of the case, the Court’s majority leaned on precedent and the inherently political question before it when crafting its opinion. According to the majority, there is longstanding precedent recognizing the power of state legislatures to draw electoral districts – an inherently political task.  As such, in his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts argued that partisanship is allowed to play a role in the drawing of congressional districts – indeed this was the Founders’ intent.  In turn, the Court asserted that any attempt by courts to interject themselves into the process of weighing levels of partisanship in gerrymandering cases would inherently mean judges would be arbitrarily deciding how much partisanship is too much rather than resolving such disputes based upon clear, manageable and politically-neutral standards and limited and precise rationales. 

The rulings of the lower courts in North Carolina and Maryland, grounded in rubrics that the Court viewed as non-justiciable, were thus vacated.  It is noteworthy that the majority distinguished partisan gerrymandering from gerrymandering that involves population inequality or racial discrimination – both of which the Court has previously ruled as unconstitutional.  Ultimately, any partisan gerrymandering disputes can only be resolved politically through state legislation, state constitutional amendments, or Congress.

While the Court’s opinion expressed frustration over the excessive partisanship driving redistricting in the current political environment, the majority found that the judiciary is simply not the proper governmental branch to find solutions to the political issue of partisan gerrymandering.  Moving forward, Rucho puts the ball firmly in the courts of the people’s elected legislators to address the question of partisan gerrymandering.  Some states — Florida, Michigan, and Colorado, e.g. –  have passed amendments to their state constitutions limiting the practice. Others like Delaware and Iowa have passed laws through their state legislatures prohibiting favoritism in redistricting. Congress also now has the opportunity to address the issue through legislative means. 

Dentons will continue to monitor these efforts moving forward and provide insight on how such efforts will impact future elections at the federal, state and local levels around the country.  

With budget signed, a look ahead at remainder of Wisconsin’s legislative session

The following comes by way of Dentons50 partner firm Capitol Consultants

Now that the budget has been signed and the type of vetoes that Governor Tony Evers has made are not compelling the Legislature back into session, attention now turns toward the remainder of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session.

Legislative Committee activity will drop in frequency for the next month, although some Committees will still meet. Committee activity then will ramp up again in August in preparation for the September, October and November floor dates.

2019-2020 Session Schedule at a Glance

January 7, 20192019 Inauguration
January 15Floorperiod
January 22-24Floorperiod
February 12-14Floorperiod
March 5-7Floorperiod
April 9-11Floorperiod
April 25Bills sent to governor
May 14-16Floorperiod
June 4-8Floorperiod
August 1
August 1
Nonbudget bills sent to governor
Budget bill sent to governor
September 17-26Floorperiod
October 8-10Floorperiod
November 5-14Floorperiod
December 5 Bills sent to governor
January 14-23, 2020Floorperiod
February 11-20Floorperiod
March 24-26Last general-business floorperiod
April 16Bills sent to governor

As of today:

  • Governor Evers has signed 10 bills into law, including the 2019-2021 Budget.
  • Vetoed 5 bills (4 abortion-related bills and a middle-income tax bill)
  • 15 bills await his signature or veto.
  • 334 bills have been introduced in the State Assembly
  • 315 bills have been introduced in the State Senate

Wisconsin Assembly passes budget on 60-39 vote

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner firm Capitol Consultants

After 10 hours of debate, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed the 2019-2021 Executive Budget on a 60 to 39 vote. All 36 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted against passage of the budget. Joining the Democrats, were Republican Representatives Janel Brantjen (R-Menomonee Falls), Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger) and Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport).

The amended legislation now moves on to the Wisconsin State Senate, which is scheduled to begin debate on the bill at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Democrats offered five amendments to the budget that were tabled on a party-line 63-35 vote (Representative David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, was not present).

Those amendments were:

  • Assembly Amendment 2: Health Care related amendment. Includes Medicaid expansion and other healthcare investments.
  • Assembly Amendment 3: K-12 related amendment. Funds special education at the level that Governor Evers proposed, plus other provisions.
  • Assembly Amendment 4: UW related amendment.
  • Assembly Amendment 5: Clean water related amendment
  • Assembly Amendment 6: Dark Store “loop hole” related amendment

After a lively 10-hour debate, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Finance John Nygren (R-Marinette) noted the majority of the debate centered around issues that Assembly Democrats did not offer amendments on; like taxes, transportation funding, legalization of marijuana, shared revenue and increasing funding for stewardship

SCOTUS upholds redrawn Va. House of Delegates district lines

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Capital Results in Richmond

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal on Monday from Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates in a ruling that will uphold redrawn district boundaries that likely will make this fall’s state elections tougher for Republican candidates.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that the House lacked standing to appeal a lower court’s determination that legislators had racially gerrymandered 11 House districts. The court’s majority wrote that the Virginia attorney general’s office, led by Democrat Mark Herring, has the authority to represent the commonwealth in the matter but had opted not to do so.

The ruling is expected to roil election campaigns currently under way, with Republicans fighting to maintain their slim majorities (51-49 in the House of Delegates, and 21-19 in the state Senate).

For many longtime legislators, Monday’s ruling means that they will be campaigning for re-election in districts that are unfamiliar, and where many of the voters may not know who they are.

The 11 House districts determined to be racially gerrymandered were all occupied by Democrats, who claimed that Republicans had packed black voters into those districts in order to dilute their influence in surrounding districts, providing Republicans with an advantage to retain control.  Three of the affected districts are in the Richmond area; one district is in Petersburg, south of Richmond; and six are in Hampton Roads, which includes the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

With the redrawn boundaries now in effect, many Virginia Republicans will find themselves fighting in new territory in order to retain control of the chamber. House Speaker Kirk Cox and Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, who oversaw the House’s redistricting effort in 2011, are particularly vulnerable in districts that now feature considerably more Democratic-leaning voters.

Democrats, who hold all three executive offices, are looking to build on the electoral gains they posted in 2017 and assume control of one – or both – chambers in Virginia’s bicameral legislature.

The general election is set for Nov. 5, 2019, and the legislature will undertake its decennial redistricting in the 2021 session.

Everything you need to know about Virginia’s primary election

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Capital Results in Virginia.

Republicans currently hold the slimmest of majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates (51-49) and Senate (21-19). With several veteran legislators announcing they would not seek re-election, both parties have identified this election year as an opportunity to flip seats or install new standard-bearers in key districts.

The biggest upset of the night occurred in the Democratic primary for Richmond’s Senate District 16, where former Del. Joe Morrissey trounced party favorite and incumbent Rosalyn Dance by 13 percentage points. Morrissey, an antagonistic and colorful attorney, has a checkered history; he once was disbarred for fighting another attorney at a courthouse, and in 2015, he served in the House while on work-release from jail for charges stemming from a sex scandal with a teenager whom he eventually married. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, also a former governor, all campaigned for Dance.

The Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw, barely survived a challenge from liberal activist Yasmine Taeb in the nominating contest for northern Virginia’s District 35. Saslaw, who has served in the Senate since 1980, raised nearly $2 million to Taeb’s $178,000. In the end, he earned about 500 more votes to secure the nomination. No Republicans have filed to challenge him in November.

On the Republican side, Sen. Emmett Hangar fended off an intense challenge from Tina Freitas, wife of Republican Del. Nick Freitas, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last year. Tina Freitas campaigned heavily against Sen. Hanger’s years-long support of Medicaid expansion. Hanger, however, relied on his deep ties in the community and a pragmatic business sense to ride a nearly 15-percentage point margin to victory.

Republican Del. Bob Thomas didn’t fare as well for his support of Medicaid expansion. The Fredericksburg-area delegate was upended by Paul Milde, a former member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and strident opponent of Medicaid expansion. Milde edged Thomas by about 160 votes and will face Democrat Joshua Cole in the general election. While traditionally a Republican-leaning district, Democrats have made significant gains here in recent years.

The Republican nominating contest between Del. Chris Peace and challenger Scott Wyatt remains undecided. Peace also voted for Medicaid expansion and has enjoyed House caucus support. But Senate Republican leaders have lined up behind Wyatt, highlighting divisions between the party’s legislative leaders. Wyatt also carried Tea Party support and claimed victory at a May 4 convention for the nomination, while Peace claimed a firehouse primary victory on June 1. The outcome may not be resolved for weeks.

All 140 seats in the bicameral legislature are up for a vote in the general election on Nov. 5, 2019.

That’s a wrap on Connecticut’s 2019 legislative session

The Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up its 2019 regular session on Wednesday, June 6th with a flurry of bills passed in both chambers shortly before the House and Senate adjourned Sine Die.

In the end, many of the big ticket pieces of legislation Gov. Lamont and Democratic leaders had prioritized on the campaign trail did not materialize. Tolls, legalized sports betting, legalized recreational marijuana, and an increase in the state’s renewable portfolio standard all failed to make it to a vote on the floor of either chamber.

Despite falling short on those issues, however, the Democrats still racked up some significant accomplishments. After years of attempts, legislation authorizing a comprehensive paid family medical leave program was finally passed in both chambers. Lawmakers also voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, authorized the procurement of 2000 MW of offshore wind energy, and raised the smoking age to twenty-one.

What’s next now that the regular session has wrapped up? Lawmakers will head back to their districts to rest and meet with constituents, and will then be called back for at least two special sessions. One session will cover tolls, and the other will cover bonding and school construction. 

Paid family and medical leave passes Ct. Senate with threat of veto

After 6 hours of debate, the Senate passed Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation. The bill creates a quasi-public agency to oversee the funds gathered from a .5% tax on payroll, and funds up to 12 weeks of paid time off for an individual in need of time away from work. The bill passed with a margin of 21 to 15. Gov. Ned Lamont has already come forward to say that in its current form, he would veto the bill, putting a damper on what Senate Democratic leaders have called a major legislative victory. 

Under current FMLA laws, a company with 75 or more employees must offer paid time off, but this bill would extend FMLA to all private employees. Payroll deductions would begin Oct. 1, 2020, and paid leave would begin Jan. 1, 2022. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that funding an agency to administer the program would cost $18.6 million a year, which would come out of the payroll deduction.

During the Senate debate, Democrats emphasized the benefits that Paid Family and Medical Leave would provide. “This bill will provide working families with time off to take care of their kids with wage replacement, so that they don’t have to pick between their family members and a paycheck,” remarked Sen. Julie Kushner. Republicans attacked the idea of a state-administered program of this magnitude as unnecessary and unwieldy.

Governor Lamont ran on a platform that included the passage of a paid FMLA program. He has threatened to veto the bill because of its creation of a new quasi-public entity to oversee the program. Governor Lamont would prefer to put oversight of the program out to bid to an insurance carrier.