The 5th Circuit issued a writ of mandamus canceling a hearing to choose a new congressional map for Louisiana, after a lower court declared that the original unconstitutionally diluted Black residents’ votes.
Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the map in March 2022 because, despite Black people making up one-third of the state’s population, Republican lawmakers only created one majority-Black district out of six in the U.S. House of Representatives. Voters and voting rights groups sued, winning at the district court level in June 2022. Judge Shelly Dick (Obama appointee) wrote that the plaintiffs “demonstrated that they will suffer an irreparable harm if voting takes place” with the legislature’s map. She ordered the state to create a new map that complies with the Voting Rights Act by not diluting Black citizens’ vote.
However, in June 2022 the U.S. Supreme Court put Dick’s order on hold until it settled a similar redistricting case out of Alabama (Allen v. Milligan), forcing voters under the 2022 map for that year’s elections. After finding that Alabama’s map was unconstitutional in June 2023, the Supreme Court sent the Louisiana case back to the lower courts.
Before Judge Dick could hold a hearing to begin the process of selecting a new, fair map for Louisiana, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit intervened. Judge Edith Jones, an archconservative appointed by Reagan, and Judge James Ho, a member of the Federalist Society appointed by Trump, ruled that Dick did not give the legislature enough time to come up with a substitute map:
Since 1966, the Supreme Court has repeatedly reminded lower federal courts that if legislative districts are found to be unconstitutional, the elected body must usually be afforded an adequate opportunity to enact revised districts before the federal court steps in to assume that authority…[The district court’s] action in rushing redistricting via a court-ordered map is a clear abuse of discretion for which there is no alternative means of appeal?
The legislature had over a year since the case was put on hold, and approximately 11 weeks after the hold was lifted to come up with a new map. Voting rights groups argue that Louisiana is trying to run out the clock to lock in the 2022 maps—without a second Black opportunity district, which would almost certainly elect an additional Democratic congressperson—for yet another election next year.
- Note that this is Gov. Edwards’ last year in office due to term limitations. Far-right Republican and election denier Jeff Landry, currently Louisiana’s AG, won the election to succeed him last week.
The saga of the convoluted Ohio redistricting process continues three years after the 2020 census without a fair map in place.
In the interest of brevity, we’ll cover just a few key moments:
- 2018: Voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibits the legislature from passing a congressional map “that unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.” Should the legislature fail, the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission (made up of five Republicans and 2 Democrats) takes over drawing a new map.
- 2021: The GOP-controlled legislature created congressional maps that guaranteed Republicans 10-12 of 15 seats despite only receiving 50-55% of the statewide vote. Voters filed a lawsuit challenging the map.
- 2022: The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the 2021 map, writing that it “excessively and unwarrantedly favors the Republican Party and disfavors the Democratic Party.” After the legislature failed to pass a new map, the Redistricting Commission enacted a revised map with the same partisan breakdown as the original. The Supreme Court again struck it down for being a partisan gerrymander that favored Republicans in violation of the Ohio Constitution and gave the legislature 30 days to pass a remedial map.
- 2023: Neither the legislature nor the Redistricting Commission enacted a new map. Maureen O’Connor, the Republican chief justice who twice voted with the Democratic justices to strike down the state’s congressional map for partisan gerrymandering, retired. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) appointed prosecutor Joseph Deters to fill the vacancy. Deters has no prior judicial experience but is a longtime friend of the governor’s son, another Supreme Court justice.
Last month, after more than a year of delay and obstruction from the Republican-controlled Commission and legislature, the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed all lawsuits against the 2022 congressional map. Voting rights groups asked the court to do so, saying the turmoil isn’t in the best interest of Ohio voters. Instead, the organizations will focus on placing a new redistricting reform on the ballot in 2024.
The proposed amendment would replace the current Redistricting Commission, made up of partisan officials and lawmakers, with a 15-member citizen-led panel split equally between Republicans, Democrats, and independents. People who recently worked as politicians or lobbyists would not be allowed to serve on the Commission. On Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board approved the proposed amendment’s language, allowing supporters to begin gathering signatures.
- Voting rights groups are more likely to continue legal challenges against the state legislative maps, which gives Republicans an advantage in 61 of 99 Ohio House Districts and 23 of 33 Ohio Senate districts.
State senate Republicans voted to block the confirmation of Wisconsin Elections Commission Joseph Czarnezki, a Democrat who tried to stop them from removing the nonpartisan elections administrator.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) is a bipartisan panel, currently split 3-3 between Republicans and Democrats, that administers and enforces election laws in the state. In 2019, the Senate unanimously confirmed Meagan Wolfe for a four year term to lead the Commission. She lost the support of the Wisconsin Republican party during the fallout of the 2020 election for pushing back against false claims that Donald Trump beat Joe Biden. Her detractors allege that policies like allowing the use of absentee ballots and easing voting restrictions during the pandemic rigged the election in Biden’s favor.
Wolfe’s term came to an end in June 2023. The WEC could reappoint her to a new four year term with a majority vote and the consent of the state Senate. However, the Democratic appointees on the panel believed that the Republican-controlled Senate would have voted down her reappointment, requiring her to leave office. The three Democratic members therefore abstained from the vote to reappoint Wolfe and deadlocked the panel. Due to a past state Supreme Court ruling that a GOP appointee could stay in his position past his term, until the Senate confirms a replacement, Wolfe likewise opted to remain in office as a holdover.
War on the WEC
Undeterred, the Wisconsin GOP forced a vote on Wolfe’s appointment, saying that the WEC Democrats’ abstention equated to a unanimous 3-0 nomination. Last month, the Senate voted 22-11 along party lines to fire Wolfe.
“The Senate’s vote today to remove me is not a referendum on the job I do but rather a reaction to not achieving the political outcome they desire,” Wolfe said. “The political outcome they desired is to have someone in this position of their own choosing that would bend to those political pressures.”
State law, however, requires four WEC votes for Wolfe to be reappointed. Without being reappointed, the Senate cannot legally hold a vote on her nomination. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul immediately sued Senate leaders, seeking an order declaring that Wolfe is a lawful holdover. Senate leaders, on the other hand, have introduced a resolution calling on the elections commission to appoint an interim administrator. Neither side has backed down and will likely wait for the courts to settle the disagreement.
Earlier this month, Republicans on the Senate elections committee voted to deny the appointment of Joseph Czarnezki, a Democrat, to the WEC in retaliation for abstaining from the Wolfe vote.
The only person to testify against Czarnezki’s appointment in a public hearing also held Tuesday was former Menomonee Falls Village President Jefferson Davis, one of the state’s most prominent election deniers. Attending the meeting with Davis was former state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, who ran for governor last year on a platform almost entirely based on stoking Republican fears of election fraud…
On Tuesday, the Senate Republicans on the committee said they were only voting against Czarnezki’s appointment because of his abstention on the Wolfe vote. Sen. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), the committee chair, called the abstention a “dereliction of duty.”
Czarnezki’s nomination still needs to be heard by the full Senate, where it is likely to fail. Gov. Evers retains the power to continue appointing Democratic former clerks to the position—a process that is faster than the Senate’s ability to vote down each nominee:
“The governor can appoint faster than the Senate can fire and there’s going to be a Democratic former clerk in this position that the governor appoints off of a list provided by the Democratic Party, so I certainly hope the full Senate will confirm Joe Czarnezki,” [Democratic Sen. Mark] Spreitzer said. “I think he makes a great Commissioner but if they choose to not confirm him, there will be another Democratic former clerk in this position.”
Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback wrote on Twitter Tuesday that if the full Senate votes to deny Czarnezki, “there will be no daylight” between that vote and when Evers names his replacement.