by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, February 8, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 273 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,001 days away.
The latest in the redistricting wars
Every ten years, the United States conducts a census to count its population and record where people are moving to and from.
And then, based on that data, the nation’s 435 House seats are reallocated among the 50 states and state lawmakers are charged with redrawing their congressional district lines to ensure each district still has a roughly equal population.
This process is known as “redistricting,” and it’s hugely important for dictating who keeps control of the House, since parties often manipulate — or “gerrymander” — the district lines to give themselves an electoral advantage. Since 2020 was a census year, states are currently in the process of drawing their new maps, which will be used for the first time in the midterm elections this November.
Here are some of the latest redistricting developments you should be aware of:
The biggest recent development came in Alabama, where the Supreme Court joined the redistricting fray on Monday for the first time this cycle.
The Supreme Court reinstated a map that had been struck down by a federal appeals court for only including one majority-Black district. The lower court had ruled that the map was a likely violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which has been interpreted to require states to draw “majority-minority districts” where they can.
However, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to keep the map in place until the justices hear oral arguments on Alabama’s redistricting fight in the coming months. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberals on the decision, which signals that the Supreme Court might be preparing to offer a new interpretation on the role of race in redistricting — but also means, in the short run, that the map with one majority-Black district will likely be the one used this cycle.
Democrats would have been poised to pick up a House seat had the legislature followed through on the lower court’s order to draw another majority-minority district, so Monday’s intervention from the Supremes came as a blow to Democrats and a win for the GOP.
In other states, though, Democrats have scored a series of legal challenges against Republican-drawn maps. Last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down a map drawn by the Republican state legislature, declaring it to be “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.” The Ohio Supreme Court similarly rejected a GOP-drawn map last month.
Lawmakers in both states have now been ordered to devise new maps that are less blatantly weighed in Republicans’ favor.
Democrats have also gotten in on the gerrymandering themselves. The New York state legislature aggressively drew a new map that would likely lead to Democratic victories in 22 of the state’s 26 districts (a 3-seat gain for the party), while Illinois lawmakers designed a map that is expected to hand Democrats two new seats.
The New York map is facing legal challenges; other battlegrounds to watch include Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court is set to get involved, and Kansas, where the Democratic governor vetoed the map drawn by the Republican state legislature.
Between the court rulings and their own aggressive gerrymandering, Democrats are currently expected to emerge from this round of redistricting with an advantage.
“New lines have now been adopted in 301/435 House districts,” per redistricting expert Dave Wasserman. “Biden won 173 of these 301 new seats, up from 167/301 under the current lines.”
Here’s a map from FiveThirtyEight that shows the latest House lines across the country:
The Democratic successes comes after months of hand-wringing that Republicans would be able to win the House majority this year off of redistricting alone. While the GOP is still favored to retake the House, it because because of historical trends, not redistricting. And if they do win the chamber, Democratic victories during redistricting will likely result in a slimmer GOP majority — and margins do matter in congressional majorities, as Democrats have discovered this past year.
A few more things:
- Another notable result of the redistricting wars this year is the continued depletion of competitive House seats across the country. According to Wasserman, “of the 301 new House districts that have now been adopted, just 17 (5.6%) went for Biden or Trump by five points or less, down from 39 of 301 (13.0%) districts in the same states currently.”
- Want to try your hand at gerrymandering? I had fun with this interactive game from the New York Times.
- Looking for more background on the history of gerrymandering and an inside look at how parties draw seats to gain an advantage? Check out the podcast episode I did on the topic in 2020.
White House: President Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, resigned on Monday after reporting by Politico that he bullied staff members — especially women — and created a toxic work environment. In his resignation, Lander acknowledged that he had “caused hurt to past and present colleagues” and “crossed the line at times into being disrespectful and demeaning.”
Lander is the first Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level departure.
Global: After meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday, Biden declared that the U.S. would “bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine. Scholz did not make such a commitment on the pipeline, which connects Russia and Germany, and Biden did not specify how he would go about achieving the promise.
Congress: Lawmakers are nearing the finish line in a trio of high-stakes bipartisan negotiations, including talks over updating the Electoral Count Act, imposing severe sanctions on Russia, and a deal to fund the government past the February 18 shutdown deadline.
Each morning, WUTP’s team of contributors rotate to offer a briefing on the latest news in a different policy area. It’s Tuesday, so Kirsten Shaw Mettler is here with the week’s top education headlines:
States are rolling back school mask mandates. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) both announced plans on Monday for school mask mandates to end within the next month. In Delaware, Gov. John Carney (D) said that school mask mandates will expire by the end of March.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) ended his school mask mandate in January and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is facing a number of legal challenges on his school mask-optional order.
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country received bomb threats last week. The threats forced administrators to temporarily cancel in-person classes, although so far no explosives have been found. This wave of threats started on February 1, the first day of Black History Month, and has spread to 17 schools. The FBI is current investigating the incidents as possible hate crimes and has identified six juveniles as persons of interest.
Republican state legislatures across the country are introducing curriculum transparency bills. The bills give taxpayers more information on various course materials and topics. Many of these measures specifically limit K-12 education on issues related to race and gender. This wave of legislation comes as debates over “critical race theory” have gained increasing political prominence.
And here are a few more education stories to watch, via Kirsten:
-- First Lady Jill Biden acknowledged on Monday that free community college is no longer included in her husband’s “Build Back Better” agenda.
-- Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced that his department will be revamping the College Scorecard, a tool meant to help prospective students determine institution affordability.
-- The rate of college students who are finishing their degrees has climbed to 62.2%, its highest level ever, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive their daily intelligence briefing at 10:15 a.m. Then, at 10:15 a.m., they will have lunch together. At 1:45 p.m., Biden will deliver remarks on manufacturing, unions, and energy costs. Finally, at 2:45 p.m., Biden and Harris will receive their weekly economic briefing.
In addition to those events, Harris will also deliver remarks on the Child Tax Credit at 9:30 a.m. and deliver remarks to a Democratic National Committee virtual fundraiser at 6 p.m.
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 2 p.m.The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and continue considering various Biden nominees. At 11:45 a.m., the chamber will vote on the confirmations of John P. Howard III and Loren AliKhan, both to serve as Associate Judges of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (which is D.C.’s equivalent of a state supreme court). Howard is an administrative law judge at the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings; AliKhan is the D.C. solicitor general.
After those votes, the chamber will recess until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. At around 2:30 p.m., the Senate will vote to confirm Amy Gutmann as the U.S. ambassador to Germany and Lisa Carty as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Gutmann is the president of the University of Pennsylvania; Carty is a longtime State Department and UN official who is married to William Burns, Biden’s CIA director.
- Senate committee hearings will include a 10 a.m. hearing on youth mental health, featuring testimony from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and a 10 a.m. confirmation hearing on Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt’s stalled nomination to be the U.S. special envoy for combatting anti-semitism. The House will convene at 10 a.m. and will debate and vote on two pieces of legislation: H.R. 3076, the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022, and H.R. 6617, the Further Additional Extending Government Funding Act.
The former would be the largest-scale postal reform legislation passed in 15 years, repealing the requirement that bounds the U.S. Postal Service to anually pre-fund retiree health benefits, which has led to a billions of dollars in financial losses for the agency.
The latter is a stopgap measure to fund the government through March 11. Government funding is currently set to expire on February 18; if lawmakers do not pass a spending bill by then, the government will shut down.
- House committee hearings will include a 10 a.m. hearing on protecting Jewish houses of worship, featuring testimony from Charlie Cytron-Walker, the rabbi who was held hostage at his Texas synagogue last month. The Supreme Court is not in session.
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