Tag Archives: Supreme Court

An Open Review – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 7, 2018 — Continuing our look at the 53 open seats, today we look at those in the Lean R & D categories. It is here where Democrats will have to score big if they are to claim the House majority.

2018-elections-open-seatsThe US Supreme Court declined to hear the Pennsylvania Republicans’ arguments earlier this week to move the live redistricting case to the federal level. To review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the current congressional map a political gerrymander, but without citing any election law statute violations. State Senate Republicans are refusing to provide the court with their requested data until the legislative bodies are informed about what is legally wrong with the current map.

In the meantime, the court has already appointed a special master from Stanford University to draw a new plan, and moved the congressional candidate filing deadline from March 6 to March 20. Additionally, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is already saying he will veto the legislature’s map, so all of these developments suggest that a new, Democrat-friendly map will likely be in place before the 2018 elections.

In our overview of the current House open seat configuration, two of the Pennsylvania seats are either in the Lean D category (PA-7; Rep. Pat Meehan-R) or Lean R (PA-15; Rep. Charlie Dent). With a new map likely to collapse most, if not all, of the four open Republican seats, it is likely that both of the aforementioned districts will find themselves in the Democratic column after the next election.

Currently, the Lean Democrat column consists only of Republican seats. In addition to PA-7, and probably adding at least PA-15 post-redistricting, retiring GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) are leaving seats that are also trending toward the Democratic side of the political ledger.

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An Open Review – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 6, 2018 — With so many House retirements coming into focus within the past several weeks, it is a good time to review the list of 53 districts heading into their next election without an incumbent on the ballot.

Of the 53, Republicans currently hold 37 seats versus just 16 for the Democrats. Here’s the breakdown of how things look regarding all 53 seats right now:

2018-elections-open-seats

  • Safe Republican (19)
  • Likely Republican (6)
  • Likely Democrat (6)
  • Safe Democrat (6)
  • Lean Republican (5)
  • Lean Democrat (3)
  • Toss-up (8)

This configuration could change drastically if the Pennsylvania map is re-drawn in a court-ordered redistricting. The state Supreme Court has declared the Keystone State map a political gerrymander and has ordered a new plan drawn by Feb. 15.

The state Senate President Pro Tempore is responding, however, that the legislature will not comply with the court order to turn over statistical data need to draw a new map because the state court did not cite the legal provisions violated in making the current plan a gerrymander. Additionally, the US Supreme Court is sending signals that it may try to involve itself even though this case is filed against the Pennsylvania Constitution and not its federal counterpart. We can count on major action coming here within the next several days.

Furthermore, the US Supreme Court is in the process of deciding the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case, which will also affect active lawsuits in Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia; in Pennsylvania, the political gerrymandering lawsuit realm is not directly part of this group because its case is filed within the state court system. But the Republicans have petitioned the federal high court to look at this case for other legal reasons.

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No. 51

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 31, 2018 — The number of House open seats continues to grow. Veteran New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced Monday that he will not seek a 13th term later this year.

2018-open-house-seats-toss-upDespite averaging 65.3 percent of the vote during his 12 successful elections and even winning with a healthy 58-39 percent victory margin in 2016, Rep. Frelinghuysen was considered vulnerable for 2018. Democrats have recruited at least two candidates who are pulling in strong financial resources in order to stock a large campaign war chest for a presumed political battle in what is always a very expensive state.

The Dems say this district is changing because Hillary Clinton came within one percentage point of carrying it (49-38 percent) in the 2016 presidential campaign. Still, her performance here pales in comparison to a 55-41 percent Garden State win, and even though the district became close in the presidential contest, it has yet to fall to a Democratic candidate.

Yesterday, we covered the Ohio political situation as being potentially favorable to Republicans. Conversely, the northeastern tri-state region comprised of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey perhaps has even a better chance of adding a strong number of seats to the Democratic conference.

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Meehan to Go

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 29, 2018 — The alleged sexual harassment situation involving four-term Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford) culminated with his retirement announcement, last week.

Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford)

Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford)

In a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and his local Republican Party chairman, Meehan wrote that he will not be a candidate for a fifth term in November. But, his personal situation may not be the only reason that voluntarily leaving Congress makes sense for him.

As we’ve discussed on several occasions, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s congressional map earlier this week on grounds that the empowered Republican political apparatus took partisanship too far in constructing the 2011 plan. The GOP will try to flip this case into federal jurisdiction — the US Supreme Court has never ruled a map invalid because of political gerrymandering, and are actively considering several such cases during the current term — but the party’s prospects of doing so are likely poor.

If the state high court’s ruling stands, the legislature and governor will be forced to present a new map to the Justices by Feb. 15 in order to keep pace with the current election calendar. The short deadline will likely avoid compelling the court to delay the state’s March 6 candidate filing deadline and May 15 primary election.

Now with a Democrat governor in office, and not the Republican that signed this map into law, it is highly probable that a veto will occur over the next GOP iteration. If so, then the court will appoint a special master to draw the new map.

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Early National Report Card

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 14, 2017 — Morning Consult and the Politico publication joined forces to conduct a major national tracking survey that begins to understand how Americans are viewing the current political state. The polling period occurred Feb. 2-4, through extensive interviews with a large 2,070 registered voters sampling universe.

The questionnaire covered how people view President Trump, the congressional leaders, the direction of the country, and their attitudes about key issues currently facing the nation including Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation status.

The right track-wrong track question — though a sizable majority still express negative opinions about where the country is headed — is improving according to this survey. By are margin of 40:60 percent, the respondents believe America is now on the right track. Previously, the ratio had been much worse: well into the 70-plus percentile range responding wrong track during the presidential campaign.

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The Florida Switch

Oct. 20, 2015 — Central Florida House Republicans are getting nervous. The new redistricting plan, which the state Supreme Court is likely to soon adopt, is not kind to the middle-state GOP incumbents. In preparation, press rumors are floating that several members will switch districts in order for each to have a winnable place to run next year.

Under the lower court’s proposed map, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL-10) is the odd man out. His current Orlando-anchored district goes from a 46 percent Obama district to one where the president scored 61 percent. Therefore, the new 10th District becomes unwinnable for Webster even by his own admission.

Ironically, Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D) 9th District, now a 62 percent Obama district becomes even more Republican than the new 10th. The new southeastern Orlando suburban 9th would carry a 56 percent Obama rating, but even this Republican improvement would not yield a GOP victory particularly in a presidential election year. The 9th will be an open seat because Rep. Grayson is running for the Senate.

Rep. John Mica’s (R) 7th District is currently a 47 percent Obama district that would move to 49 percent Obama because the city of Sanford is annexed, which makes it a virtual tie at the presidential level (Mitt Romney also scored 49 percent). The open 6th District, northeast of the 7th that hugs the Atlantic coast from Daytona through Volusia County, is the seat Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) is vacating to run for Senate. This district gets more Democratic, too, but should remain in Republican hands. Originally, the 6th gave 41 percent of its votes to Obama; now, it would be 46 percent.

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SCOTUS: Arizona Ruling Upholds Initiative

July 1, 2015 — The US Supreme Court released their long-awaited ruling on the Arizona redistricting case on Tuesday. In a common 5-4 decision, the high court allowed the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) to stand and, as a result, similar commissions in other multi-district states (California, New Jersey, Washington) have affirmed legitimacy. The practical result is that congressional districts in these aforementioned places will stay intact for the remainder of the decade.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority. Her final two sections illuminate the crux of the ruling (see below), that the initiative process allowing the voters to decide legislative issues is the major tenet of this case and not just the Arizona redistricting circumstance.

The Arizona Legislature brought the suit, and the SCOTUS decision affirmed that the body had legal standing to bring such action. Their argument was that the US Constitution gave exclusive power to the state legislature to redistrict post reapportionment.
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Developments in MS-1 Special,
Illinois Senate, Virginia Redistricting

April 1, 2015 — Candidate filing closed this past Friday for the MS-1 special election, which Rep. Alan Nunnelee’s (R) death made necessary. Twelve Republicans and one Democrat will be on the May 12 Mississippi jungle primary ballot. With so many candidates qualifying, a June 2 run-off between the top two finishers is a virtual certainty, since it would be very difficult for any one contender to attract a majority of the vote.

One prominent name missing from the list is former Rep. Travis Childers (D), who won the last special election held here, and then claimed a full term later in 2008. He was unseated in 2010, and then lost to Sen. Thad Cochran (R) last November in a statewide general election contest. Though it is always possible lightning could have again struck for him in a special election, the chance of Childers holding this strongly Republican northern Mississippi district for a long duration is an unlikely one, at best. Hence, his decision not to run.

The lone Democrat running is former Jackson mayoral aide Walter Zinn. His prospects of qualifying for the run-off are somewhat realistic because the Republican vote will be split literally a dozen ways. His prospects are thin, however, to capture the seat in the run-off. Aside from being a prohibitive underdog against a Republican in a one-on-one battle, Zinn’s Jackson political base is not even in the 1st District.
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The Wacky 36th CD in Texas

Texas' 36th Congressional District

Texas’ 36th Congressional District

When Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX-36) signed his official candidate documents to run against Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, only hours remained in the candidate filing period. After the figurative dust cleared, Republican Party officials decided that there needed to be an extended opportunity for more individuals to enter the now incumbent-less 36th District congressional race. So after citing some legal technicalities in the way Rep. Stockman withdrew his previous filing from the House race, they extended the qualification period for this race alone through Monday, Dec. 16. But, the extra period is not open to all.
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Impact of NC Redistricting Upheld

The special three-judge state panel hearing the redistricting challenge to the legislative and congressional maps unanimously, and with a mention that partisanship was left out of their decision, ruled in favor of the state of North Carolina. This means that the Republican-drawn maps will continue to stand.

The judicial panel was comprised of two Democrats and one Republican. The upheld maps sent nine Republicans and four Democrats to Washington from the congressional delegation; a state Senate consisting of 33 Republicans and 17 Democrats; and a state House comprised of 77 Republicans and just 43 Democrats. Prior to the 2010 elections and the subsequent redistricting, Democrats held an 8-5 advantage in the congressional delegation, a 30-20 margin in the state Senate, and commanded a 68-52 House majority.

The decision will undoubtedly be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but a panel with a Republican majority is unlikely to overturn a Democratic special court that found in the state’s favor.

There are two key practical effects from the ruling. First, as it relates to the US Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder opinion, it is now highly unlikely that the maps will be redrawn prior to the next census. Thus, the Shelby County decision will not likely come into play here until 2021. Since North Carolina has live redistricting litigation ongoing, as does Florida, Arizona, and Kentucky, an overturn of the state’s map could have had a major effect upon any new court-mandated drawing.

Second, one of North Carolina’s remaining four Democratic seats, the 7th District of Rep. Mike McIntyre, saw the closest finish of any 2012 US House race. McIntyre was re-elected over former state Sen. David Rouzer with a mere 654-vote margin from more than 336,000 ballots cast. With Rouzer already running again and facing a mid-term turnout model without President Obama leading the Democratic ticket, it makes McIntyre the most endangered Democrat in Congress. A redraw would have greatly helped him. Now without such a boost, does McIntyre even run again? The coming weeks in the southeastern corner of  Continue reading >

What They’re Missing

The analyses and coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision this week that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is typically missing a very subtle but highly important point.

As mentioned in many articles and interviews, now that the official formula determining whether a jurisdiction must adhere to US Justice Department supervision is invalid, the laws previously stayed through the denial of pre-clearance procedure have taken effect. A representative sampling of recent laws that failed the pre-clearance test but are now fully enforceable are several polling place voter identification statutes from various states.

In terms of political district map drawing, there is now another crucial factor present in some places. Most states have what is commonly described as a “county line law.” The statute typically says that a county must be kept whole unless more population is needed to reach the proper district target figure. Often times counties are split between or among two or more districts for purposes of adding more minorities to a congressional or legislative district in order to protect that seat under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now that the elimination of Section 4 effectively debilitates Section 5, the county line laws will presumably be stronger than the VRA, the reverse of what had, heretofore, been the usual practice.

Florida could be the state most quickly affected by the county line situation. In 2010, voters passed a ballot initiative that defined new and additional redistricting criteria. One of the included items is the county line provision. Currently, the state is embroiled in live redistricting litigation, and apparently headed for a January trial in Leon County (Tallahassee). The Supreme Court’s opinion this week will likely bear major influence upon the state judge’s ultimate decision, and it is probable that the tables have turned in the plaintiffs favor. If they do in fact win at the lower and upper court levels, new congressional and legislative maps will likely be mandated, and that could happen as early as the 2014 election cycle.

Florida is particularly vulnerable on the county line issue. The state has seven counties that are larger than a congressional district. Within those seven counties is enough population to complete 10 CDs. The  Continue reading >

Voting Rights Act Altered; Markey Wins

Voting Rights Ruling

The Supreme Court, ruling for the plaintiffs in the Shelby County (AL) case on a 5-4 decision, struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) saying that the formula determining VRA jurisdiction is no longer applicable. In 2006, Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act for the succeeding 25 years but did not change the triggering election. Until yesterday, dropping below the turnout pattern dictated in the 1972 presidential election would bring a municipality, county, or state under VRA coverage. Had the court not acted, that triggering mechanism would have stayed in place at least until 2031, or almost 60 years.

The high court majority members made clear they are not striking down the Act itself, only the formula for determining which jurisdictions will come under federal supervision. Doing so eliminates the Department of Justice’s power to pre-clear election laws after a covered jurisdiction enacts statutory changes. Because the formula is now declared unconstitutional, all of the laws previously denied pre-clearance now take effect. This could greatly change matters in several states, and very quickly. In fact, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), for example, announced that he would immediately begin enforcing the state’s voter identification law that had been previously stayed by the DoJ’s refusal to pre-clear the legislation.

The states that could be most affected by this ruling, even as early as the present election cycle, are the three hearing live redistricting litigation. The trio of states are Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. Depending upon the outcome of the various lawsuits, and yesterday’s ruling that strengthened the plaintiffs hands against their state in all instances, it is possible the congressional and state legislative lines could conceivably be re-drawn before the 2014 election.

Massachusetts

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA-5), as we’ve been predicting for several weeks, successfully claimed Secretary of State John Kerry’s (D) former Massachusetts Senate seat, but his margin of victory was a bit under what a  Continue reading >

NJ Senate Poll; SCOTUS’ Arizona Ruling

New Jersey

Immediately upon New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) scheduling the special Senate election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), both Quinnipiac University and Rutgers-Eagleton went into the field to measure the Garden State electorate. Both pollsters produced a similar conclusion — Newark Mayor Cory Booker is opening up a wide lead in the Democratic primary — but their samples sizes of less than 350 respondents were unacceptably low in a larger population state.

Now, Rasmussen Reports (June 12-13; 1,000 likely New Jersey voters) confirms that Booker does indeed have a huge lead derived from a much larger survey sample. Though the methodology does not specifically identify how many people (but undoubtedly larger than 350 individuals and presumably likely Democratic primary voters) were asked to choose among Mayor Booker, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ-12), and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the results were almost identical to what Quinnipiac and Rutgers-Eagleton originally found.

According to RR, Booker would command support from 54 percent of the Democratic voters, followed by Holt with 11 percent, and Pallone at 8 percent. Oliver trailed the pack registering just 5 percent preference.

For the special general election, tested among all 1,000 respondents, Booker leads former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R) 50-33 percent.

The special primary is scheduled for Aug. 13, followed by the deciding vote on Oct. 16. The winner will serve the balance of Sen. Lautenberg’s final term, and is eligible to stand for election to a full six-year stint during the regular 2014 election.

Arizona

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court released its ruling on the Arizona v. The Arizona  Continue reading >

Voting Rights Act Goes Before Supreme Court

The Voting Rights Act lawsuit plaintiffs from Shelby County, Alabama, and many of the Republican legal and political class who support overturning the VRA, need to take a step back and briefly consider the adage: “be careful what you wish for, ’cause it might come true.”

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments for and against the Shelby County case on Wednesday. The complaint challenges the constitutionality of parts of Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Congress last renewed for a 25 year period in 2006.

Based upon the Justices’ questioning of the participants plus their recent past rulings and writings about the Voting Rights Act, the Shelby County plaintiffs have a reasonable chance for victory but not without unintended consequences. For it is unlikely that the petitioners and vocal Republicans who support overturning the VRA want the Democratic Party to regain control of southern state legislatures and re-assume majority status in the House of Representatives. Yet, such a result will almost assuredly happen.

The case’s main tenet attacks the Act’s outdated “triggering mechanism.” When the legislation was first enacted in 1965, jurisdictions that saw a voting age population turnout falling below the 1964 presidential election standard were placed under VRA supervision.

During the Nixon administration, the VRA was amended to designate 1968 and the then-upcoming 1972 as triggering presidential elections. Such is the last time Congress altered the criteria, which is the basis of Shelby County’s complaint. Their local election officials argue that 40-year-old political data is not representative of the region’s contemporary electoral status.

The government contends that because the legislation contains what is known as a  Continue reading >

A Texas-Sized Supreme Court Ruling

The US Supreme Court stayed implementation of the San Antonio federal panel’s congressional and state legislative maps on Friday, thus making it a virtual certainty that the Texas primary, currently scheduled for Super Tuesday on March 6, will be moved. The Lone Star State vote was, until Friday, the first scheduled congressional primary in the nation.

The court ordered oral arguments for map changes to be presented on Jan. 9, far beyond the Dec. 15 candidate filing deadline. With a final ruling coming in late January at the earliest, the proscribed filing period would dictate that the March 6th nominating election for the House of Representatives and the state legislature, at a minimum, will not proceed as scheduled. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s action raises as many tangential political questions as it answered.

Our PRIsm Redistricting Report tomorrow will cover the intricacies of the decision and what it means for the 2012 election, but the ramifications of what happens to the Texas primary goes far beyond changing the judicial panel’s political boundaries.

Many states have early stand-alone primaries for President and return later in the year to nominate candidates for Congress and state and local office. Texas, however, scheduled all of their races for Super Tuesday, with a run-off on May 22. The latter date now becomes the leading scheduling option for the new primary. State Attorney General Greg Abbott argued for such in his brief to the high court. Should the May date be chosen, it is likely that any required run-off would occur sometime in June.

So, what happens next and who decides? Now that the Supreme Court has, at least temporarily, removed redistricting jurisdiction from the San Antonio three-judge panel, we know that they will have no role in setting the primary. The Supreme Court or the legislature and governor will have the ultimate scheduling authority.

The next question is: will the primary be bifurcated? Theoretically, delegate selection for president could still move forward on March 6; ditto for the US Senate and local campaigns. A second primary could be then scheduled at a later time for the US House of Representatives and the state legislature. Since no money has been budgeted for an additional primary, this option would require action from the state legislature and governor or, at least, from the Legislative Budget Board (consisting of the governor, lieutenant governor, and Speaker of the House), the body that makes financial decisions while the legislature is not in session.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry finds himself in an interesting position. He has the power to call the legislature into special session to either move the primary or appropriate the necessary funds to conduct another election.

Perry himself could benefit greatly from moving the entire Texas primary to May, assuming he is still alive in the presidential contest after the early states vote. According to Republican National Committee rules, states may invoke a winner-take-all option if the nominating event is held post-Super Tuesday, so altering the date of the primary, which would allow the nominating system to change, obviously helps the governor since Texas has the second-largest contingent of delegates (155) to the Republican National Convention.

The primary scheduling decision greatly affects another person, too: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the leading candidate for the Republican US Senate nomination. The earlier primary date favors him because polls show he has a chance to win the nomination outright on March 6. Delaying the vote for more than two months would give his top opponents, Dallas ex-Mayor Tom Leppert and Texas former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, more time to mount stronger challenges to Dewhurst and potentially force him into a run-off election.

As you can see, the Supreme Court is affecting much more than Texas redistricting with its decision to stay map implementation. In the end, when will the Texas congressional primary be held? Right now, we can be assured it will be on a date other than March 6. Beyond that, stay tuned.