By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Legal battles over redistricting could lead to new congressional maps in nearly a dozen U.S. states for the 2024 election, potentially flipping control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which currently has a 221-213 Republican majority.
The two parties are fighting over maps that were redrawn after the 2020 U.S. Census. Democrats have already picked up one likely seat, in Alabama, and could gain about a dozen more if all the cases are decided in their favor, while Republicans could pick up some four seats if all the rulings went their way. Meanwhile, Democrats face a significant risk of losing their 51-49 Senate majority.
Here are some of the cases that could affect the campaign:
NEW YORK: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN UP TO SIX SEATS
In 2022, a state judge threw out a Democratic-engineered map as illegally gerrymandered and installed a more competitive version. As a result, Democrats went from a 19-8 advantage across the state’s House districts to a 15-11 edge (New York lost one seat after 2020 due to slower population growth), nearly enough on its own to deliver Republicans their national House majority.
Now a convoluted legal case could determine whether Democrats have a second chance to pass a partisan map.
The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will hear arguments this week over whether to order a new map for 2024, as Democrats have asked, or to maintain the current map, as Republicans have argued.
If the court rules that a new map is needed, a bipartisan redistricting commission would get the first opportunity – but under state law, the state legislature has the final say. A Democratic-drawn map could endanger five or six Republican incumbents.
FLORIDA: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
A state judge in September ruled that a map backed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis violated the state constitution by shredding a Black district in north Florida.
The incumbent, Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, lost re-election by nearly 20 percentage points under the new map.
The DeSantis administration has appealed the decision. If the ruling is upheld, it would restore a safely Democratic seat, though the rest of the map would remain unchanged.
GEORGIA: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
A federal judge in October found the state’s Republican-drawn map violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the Black vote. Following a trial, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered lawmakers to add a district with a Black majority or near-majority, which could flip a Republican seat to Democrats, depending on how Republicans configure the rest of the map.
The state has appealed the decision, but Republican Governor Brian Kemp has also called a special redistricting legislative session for late November.
LOUISIANA: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
A federal judge found the Republican-backed congressional map illegally harmed Black voters and ordered a new map drawn to include another Black-majority district, which would likely give Democrats a second seat among the state’s six. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to alter that finding.
However, an appeals court on Nov. 10 put the case on hold until January to give the Republican-controlled legislature an opportunity to enact a new map or decline to do so. The lower court will then be allowed to decide the path forward, the ruling said.
ALABAMA: DEMOCRATS WILL LIKELY GAIN ONE SEAT
In October, a federal court approved a new congressional map adding a second district with a large Black population, which will likely flip one of the state’s seven seats from Republican to Democratic.
That move came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a surprise decision that the state’s Republican-enacted plan – which gave the party six seats in 2022 – diluted the power of Black voters, who make up one-third of the state’s population.
NORTH CAROLINA: REPUBLICANS COULD GAIN THREE SEATS
The Republican-majority legislature in October approved a new congressional map that is expected to flip at least three Democratic-held seats to Republican in 2024.
The new map was made possible by the state Supreme Court, after two conservative judges won election in 2022.
The court’s previous Democratic majority had thrown out a Republican map as an illegal gerrymander. Under a court-drawn replacement map in 2022, Republicans and Democrats split the state’s 14 districts.
But the court’s new conservative majority in April reversed the decision, ruling that state law does not prohibit partisan gerrymandering.
SOUTH CAROLINA: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in October over whether South Carolina’s congressional map illegally diluted the power of Black voters. The conservative majority appeared prepared to uphold the map and reverse an appellate court’s ruling that Republican lawmakers unlawfully redrew one district along racial lines.
The new map turned a swing district into a safer Republican one; the party won six of the state’s seven seats in 2022.
UTAH: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
The state Supreme Court is weighing whether a Republican-drawn map that divided Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County into four districts violated the state constitution.
The map transformed a competitive district into a safely Republican one, making it almost certain that the party will continue to hold all four of the state’s seats.
Republican lawmakers were able to implement the map only after stripping authority from an independent redistricting commission that voters had approved in 2018.
NEW MEXICO: REPUBLICANS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
Republicans have challenged a Democratic-drawn map as unconstitutional under state law, but a judge ruled in October that the partisan gerrymandering was not “egregious” enough to warrant intervention.
The map turned a historically Republican district into a far more competitive one, which Democrats won in 2022 to give them a sweep of the state’s three seats.
The Republican state party has appealed.
TENNESSEE: DEMOCRATS COULD GAIN ONE SEAT
Civil rights groups have sued over the state’s congressional map, claiming Republican lawmakers illegally hurt voters of color by splitting up Nashville’s county – home to a sizable Black community – among three districts.
The 2022 map dismantled a heavily Democratic seat, prompting Representative Jim Cooper to retire and giving Republicans an easy one-seat pickup.
TEXAS: TIME IS RUNNING OUT
There are multiple lawsuits challenging the Republican-drawn congressional map, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice that claimed the map illegally hurt minority voters.
However, the litigation – which has been consolidated into a single case – has been delayed by discovery disputes. With a December deadline for candidates to file for the 2024 election, it appears unlikely the case will be resolved in time for next year’s vote.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax, additional reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)