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Texas successfully runs out the clock – and sets an ominous standard

June 25th, 2018, 11:09am by Sam Wang


First, the partisan-gerrymandering news. The North Carolina case, Rucho v. Common Cause, was sent back for reconsideration (“vacate and remand”) in light of the Court’s decision in Gill v. Whitford. Retrying Rucho would take a while, so hopefully they will find a faster way.

Now, to racial gerrymandering. In the last redistricting case of this year’s term, Abbott v. Perez, the Supreme Court has ruled against a racial gerrymandering claim. Justice Alito wrote the 5-4 opinion here. With one exception (Texas House District 90), the decision locks in most of a temporary (but according to the plaintiffs, inadequate) map drawn by a trial court in 2012.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the majority had gone out of its way to preserve a racially biased map. And now most of a probable racial gerrymander stays in place for the rest of the cycle. That’s what comes from having no clear standards: a decade-long shell game that leaves plaintiffs with little or no remedy.

If applied to other cases, Justice Alito’s discriminatory-intent-standard analysis and the jurisdictional arguments may spell trouble for future Voting Rights Act and gerrymandering claims of any kind. This would not affect the re-hearing of the North Carolina case, since there the legislators explicitly conceded discriminatory partisan intent. But it would set the bar extremely high – perhaps impossibly high – for future claims. Rick Hasen has more to say.

It seems to me that a critical misstep was the fact that the trial court drew a “temporary” fix in 2012 that was then passed into law. I wonder…if they had a faster way to draw remedial maps, I wonder, could this mess have been avoided?

For more background, see Common Cause and the Brennan Center summaries.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court

Both Sides Now

June 20th, 2018, 6:06pm by Sam Wang


Although I wasn’t thrilled to see the Supreme Court kick the can down the road, the Roberts decision and the Kagan concurrence are quite clarifying, logically speaking. These justices have, in some ways, sorted things out nicely. [Read more →]

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Kicking the can down the road

June 18th, 2018, 10:33am by Sam Wang


From the opinion (click image to get whole decision):From the Roberts opinionThe Supreme Court has opinions on Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone. First, the good news: the Court likes our math! The bad news: they think it answered a First Amendment claim, and they decided this was a Fourteenth Amendment case.

Major points, in short:

  • They are sending Gill back to Wisconsin for a do-over on grounds that there needs to be a plaintiff in every district. The Court focused on vote dilution, which they say is a Fourteenth Amendment claim. They scold the plaintiffs for not spending much time on the First Amendment claim. Not a win or a loss, but a punt. Read more at SCOTUSblog.
  • In the Court’s view, this claim has to be decided on a district-by-district basis. They say that alternative maps demonstrating individual-voter harms could help. This is a loss for those of us who think that statewide measures were the way to prove a representational harm.
  • Kagan has a 4-vote concurrence that points a possible way forward, based on First Amendment principles. It leaves open the possibility of a statewide harm. Noah Feldman analyzes. Kennedy didn’t sign that opinion, either because he didn’t agree or because he’s keeping his powder dry for now.
  • Benisek, the Maryland decision, also came out today. That’s less interesting – a loss for reformers but basically a wait-and-see ruling, on the basis that Gill is a punt. Not much more to be said for now.
  • North Carolina (Rucho v. Common Cause) may be argued next fall. It presents different theories. It’s actually a better-done decision, and would make better law than what was presented in Gill.

The next front is state-by-state reform. In places like Michigan and Virginia, state-specific voter initiatives and laws can do what the Supreme Court didn’t do today. So our plans at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project will move ahead!

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The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is expanding!

June 1st, 2018, 11:20pm by Sam Wang


Anyone interested in containing partisan gerrymanders is waiting for several major decisions from the Supreme Court this  month. But no matter which way those decisions go, the next stage of reform will be local. For this reason, my team at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project is making plans to expand our research efforts, which bridge mathematics and the law, to individual states.

Here’s what we have planned ahead in our effort to fix a major bug in democracy. [Read more →]

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This Saturday at Princeton: A bipartisan panel on gerrymandering

May 31st, 2018, 1:10pm by Will Adler


Alumni, welcome back for Reunions!

This Saturday, as part of Princeton’s annual Reunions, Sam will be moderating a bipartisan panel on gerrymandering. Our new initiative, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, uses data analytics and the law to address gerrymandering. We’re working at the federal level (see our last-minute appeal to help the Supreme Court) and the state level, partnering with reform efforts in Michigan and Virginia, as well as setting up a major data hub to help redistricting and voting reform movements. And we’re gearing up for whatever comes out of the Supreme Court later this month.

We hope those around this weekend will come out and join us this Saturday, June 2nd, 8:45am, McCosh Hall 10.

Alumni-Faculty Forum: Shifting Boundaries: Redistricting, Gerrymandering & Election Reform — Saturday, June 2, 8:45am—10:00am, McCosh Hall 10

  • Moderator: Sam Wang, Professor of Neuroscience and Molecular Biology, and Founder, Princeton Election Consortium
  • Peter Smith ’68, Former Member of Congress (VT) and Founding President, Community College of Vermont and California State University, Monterey Bay
  • Nellie Gorbea ’88, Rhode Island Secretary of State
  • Vanessa C. Tyson ’98, Associate Professor of Politics, Scripps College, and incoming Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
  • Amanda H. Neely ’03, General Counsel to U.S. Senator Rob Portman and Deputy Chief Counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Sponsored by the Alumni Association of Princeton University.

Comments Off on This Saturday at Princeton: A bipartisan panel on gerrymanderingTags: Redistricting

SCOTUS Tea Leaf Watch

May 23rd, 2018, 8:51am by Sam Wang


The anti-labor Epic Systems decision reminds us that the Supreme Court is fundamentally conservative in its outlook – in the political sense, not a textualist sense. Edith Roberts has the roundup.

FantasySCOTUS watch: I give you the top 16 punters.
Gill v. Whitford: 9 guess affirm, 5 reverse.
Benisek v. Lamone: 10 reverse, 5 affirm, 1 not voting.
Abbott v. Perez: 4 affirm, 8 reverse, 4 not voting.

In each case, the liberal position is listed first.

Abbott v. Perez is a confused case, as Texas cases usually are. Still, it is just one example of broad hostility on the part of the Court to racial gerrymandering claims. This case tells us that the future of such claims is bleak. Here we are in 2018, and no matter how this case is resolved, much of the Texas map will have made it through four Congressional elections – and maybe all five elections before post-2020 redistricting. Truly it is possible to run out the clock on a racial gerrymander.

The partisan gerrymandering cases seem more likely to tilt in the liberal direction, at least for now. Although we don’t know what will happen in Whitford or in Benisek, the issue is at least alive. To the extent that a racial voting group’s interests align with one party more than another, for now this is a remaining route to reform through court action. For a longer look, I recommend Rick Hasen’s “Party All The Time” article on the relationship between race and party.

Pardon my ongoing obsession with the Supreme Court; I’ll get to the House and Senate when summer comes.

→ 1 CommentTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court

The Princeton Election Consortium needs your help!

May 9th, 2018, 10:26pm by Sam Wang


Here at PEC, we need help for the 2018 season. I want to revamp the site, as well as redesign some of the ways we present information. It’s an effort for the summer, with the goal of being fully automatic by fall. Interested? See this ad, and write to us.

One catch: it would be best if you were nearby, to allow in-person meetings!

Comments Off on The Princeton Election Consortium needs your help!Tags: 2018 Election

Tea Leaves II: FantasySCOTUS renders a verdict

May 5th, 2018, 2:09am by Sam Wang


(Welcome to readers of SCOTUSblog! -Sam)

Postscript: Obviously, you can do what I did here for other cases. You are welcome to post your results in comments. Better yet, if you want to write a program to do this automatically, that would be quite welcome!

This week, Heather Gerken, election law scholar and Dean of the Yale Law School, visited to give a lecture here at Princeton on federalism as a powerful tool for both conservatives *and* progressives. During question-and-answer, she was asked what she thought would happen in the current partisan gerrymandering cases before the Supreme Court. After getting leave from me to answer (because of this, she is quite literally my lawyer!), she thought things looked uncertain. One of her sources was betting websites. As her unofficial data scientist, I thought I’d do a deeper dive.

I’ve previously used the crowd wisdom of these betting sites to estimate the outcome of the Arizona v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission redistricting case. There, the crowd did well – especially the most accurate punters. After doing the same thing for the current cases, it is possible to see what the smart crowd thinks will happen next month. [Read more →]

→ 19 CommentsTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court

Tea Leaves on Partisan Gerrymandering

April 25th, 2018, 11:37am by Sam Wang


Update: At Election Law Blog, Rick Pildes of NYU points out slightly different tea leaves. In his reading, Kennedy got stuck writing two October opinions because he had to pick up pieces left by a failed Gorsuch opinion.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a racial gerrymandering case, Abbott v. Perez. That’s a complicated case. For a rundown, see Amy Howe over at SCOTUSBlog. The vote might come down to Anthony Kennedy, the usual swing vote in gerrymandering cases. He is generally unfavorable to such claims. However, the liberals argued that a win by Governor Abbott could open the door to a flood of lawsuits by lowering the bar for an appeal to the Supreme Court (currently there has to be at least an injunction). Whatever the case, it seems likely that the justices will arrange themselves into two wings, with Kennedy’s vote up for grabs, like this vote (replace Scalia with Gorsuch):

But that’s not my topic today. Instead I want to engage in some speculation on the partisan gerrymandering cases. Yesterday, a small clue came from an opinion issued by the Court yesterday in an unrelated case. Bottom line: I think reformers will win in Maryland, and they will win or have more work to do in Wisconsin and North Carolina. [Read more →]

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One last gerrymandering case…Abbott v. Perez in Texas

April 23rd, 2018, 11:16am by Sam Wang


This week, the Supreme Court hears one last case on gerrymandering for the term. This one’s a racial-gerrymandering case, Abbott v. Perez. The history of the case is long and tortured – see Ian Millhiser’s summary. Also, here’s great coverage from Alexa Ura at the Texas Tribune.

This case is in a separate category than the partisan-gerrymandering cases (Whitford, Benisek, and Rucho), where there is an opportunity to create new guardrails. Instead, Abbott seems more a case study in how a dispute can be slow-walked – in this case since 2011. I agree with Millhiser that the slow-walking is upsetting. But it could arise from caution in the face of complexity (or in the partisan cases, the absence of settled doctrine). So one could justify that aspect of how gerrymandering cases are handled.

Millhiser is quite negative about the Court’s approach to gerrymandering. At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, let me take a more positive view of where the Court may head in the future. Indeed, I see potential for substantial improvement, by expanding gerrymandering from race into the domain of party. [Read more →]

→ 7 CommentsTags: Redistricting