Republicans see state courts as their next political battleground

After a series of legal setbacks, the GOP's focus on state supreme courts grew.

Republicans see state courts as their next political battleground

DENVER -- The races for the state supreme court seats in most midterm elections years are overshadowed each year by campaigns for governor and the Senate. However, some Republicans believe that the party's priorities must change.

After a series legal setbacks that hampered the party's efforts to redraw congressional maps for Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, the GOP's attention on the composition of state supreme court courts grew this week. Some Republicans have pressed the party to pay more attention this November to which supreme court justices will be facing voters.


 

Chris Christie, an ex-Governor of New Jersey who heads the National Republican Redistricting Trust told reporters this week that the top two spots on the ticket, where there is a governor's election, and the Senate race are crucial. You must pay close attention to the Supreme Courts of your elected representatives if you want fair House districts.

This comment and the rulings that inspired it show how state courts are increasingly playing a high-profile role during the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative lines . The process is usually controlled by the legislature, which can manipulate the lines to get as many voters for their party as possible in as many districts they can draw. This process is known as gerrymandering.

Even under the best circumstances, this process can trigger an avalanche in litigation. This cycle has fuelled even more litigation in state courts. In 2019, the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot rule on cases involving partisan gerrymandering. Federal courts are allowed to intervene in cases involving race-based line-drawing. State courts are the last resort for most redistricting legal disputes.

This week, the GOP's anger at state courts escalated after the Democratic-majority Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the recommendations of an lower court to adopt a GOP-drawn Map that decreased the number of Democratic-leaning House Seats. This despite the fact that Democrats largely cover areas where there is increasing state population. The high court instead chose a map drawn up by Democratic plaintiffs. It combined two Republican-held seats that were particularly stagnant in population growth.

The same day, a panel of North Carolina judges ruled that a map drawn by that state's GOP-controlled legislature didn't comply with a 4-3 decision from the Democratic-controlled supreme court that found a similar map to illegally favor Republicans. The state's high-court left the new map intact, drawn by court-appointed mapmakers, later Wednesday. This could cost Republicans three House seats, compared to the original map that they submitted. It made 10 of the 14 state seats in the GOP's favor.

Despite Republican criticisms, state courts don't always rule on partisan lines.

For example, the Republican chief justice of Ohio's Supreme Court joined three Democrats in repeatedly throwing out maps drawn by the GOP controlled state legislature as illegally partisan gerrymanders. A GOP majority Ohio court ordered members of the state’s map-drawing committee, including Republican Governor, to attend a hearing next week. Mike DeWine was summoned to a hearing next week about why they shouldn't be held in contempt of the Ohio court for drawing maps that aren't in line with its instructions.

The request of a Republican Governor was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court earlier this month. Ron DeSantis will bless his most controversial feature of the map, which is to dissolve a North Florida district that was drawn to allow Black voters to elect their representatives.

These rulings are one of the reasons this redistricting cycle went better for Democrats than many anticipated. The party is now in line with Republicans, even though it controls more of the line-drawing process.

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