In “Pumping the Brakes Post-Milligan,” Kyle Kondix makes the case at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that “The Supreme Court’s Allen v. Milligan decision should give Democrats at least a little help in their quest to re-take the House majority, but much remains uncertain” and writes in his conclusion:
Since the Supreme Court’s aforementioned Wesberry v. Sanders decision, which applied the concept of “one person, one vote” to congressional redistricting, there have been 30, two-year congressional election cycles (every even-numbered year from 1964 through 2022). Based on research I did for my history of recent House elections, 2021’s The Long Red Thread, at least one congressional district (and often more) changed from the previous cycle in 23 of those 30 election cycles. Most of these changes (though not all) were forced by courts. The 2024 cycle will make it 24 of 31 cycles, with potentially several states changing their maps in response to court orders. We bring this up to say that despite the now-familiar rhythm of all the states with at least two districts redrawing to reflect the census at the start of every decade, it’s common for at least some districts to change more often than that.
Beyond the states mentioned above, at least some of which will have new maps next year, Ohio is also likely to have a new map that quite possibly will be better for Republicans than the current one, which the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional but which was eventually used anyway in 2022 (just like in North Carolina, the Ohio Supreme Court has since changed in such a way to make it more amenable to GOP redistricting prerogatives going forward). Democrats in New York are trying to force a new map, in part because of changes to that state’s highest court that may make that court more amenable to Democratic redistricting arguments than the previous court, which undid a Democratic gerrymander. The particulars in both states require longer-winded explanations that we’ll save for another time.
And aside from the changes forced by courts, one also wonders if we will eventually see a redistricting technique that at one time was common but really has not been in recent decades: a state legislature enacting an elective, mid-decade remap without prompting by the courts.
The most famous modern example of this is when Texas Republicans redrew their state’s congressional map following the 2002 election. That gerrymander, which is most closely associated with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), came after Republicans took full control of Texas state government in 2002. They replaced a court-drawn map that reflected a previous Democratic gerrymander and imposed their own partisan gerrymander, turning a 17-15 deficit in what had become a very Republican state into a 21-11 advantage. Georgia Republicans did something similar later in the decade, though to much less effect; Colorado Republicans tried to but were blocked by state courts — some states do not allow mid-decade redistricting, but others do (there is no federal prohibition on mid-decade redistricting). North Carolina’s looming redraw is somewhat similar to those in Texas and Georgia from the 2000s: The voters changed the political circumstances — Republicans taking control of Texas and Georgia state government in 2002 and 2004, respectively, and Republicans flipping the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2022 — paving the way for the partisan gerrymanders that did (or will) follow.
The redistricting stakes are extremely high at a time when U.S. House majorities are so narrow.Democrats won just a 222-213 majority in 2020, and Republicans won the same 222-213 edge last year. It’s possible that the net impact of mid-decade redistricting — including some of the changes we’ve laid out above — could be decisive in who wins the majority next year. It may also prompt other states to try to go back to the redistricting well without prompting by courts — and if they determine they can based on state law — if they believe that new maps could make a difference in determining majorities.