Appeals court rules North Carolina’s electoral map unconstitutional, map may have to be redrawn before midterms

From today’s Washington Post:

A panel of three federal judges held Monday that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans over Democrats and said it may require new districts before the November elections, possibly affecting control of the House.

The judges acknowledged that primary elections have already produced candidates for the 2018 elections but said they were reluctant to let voting take place in congressional districts that courts twice have found violate constitutional standards.

North Carolina legislators are likely to ask the Supreme Court to step in. The court traditionally does not approve of judicial actions that can affect an election so close to the day voters go to the polls.

But the Supreme Court has just eight members since Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement last month; a tie vote would leave the lower court’s decision in place. Senate hearings on President Trump’s nominee to fill the open seat, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, commence Sept. 4.

The North Carolina case is a long-running saga, with a federal court in 2016 striking down the legislature’s 2011 map as a racial gerrymander. The legislature then passed a plan that left essentially the same districts in place but said lawmakers were motivated by politics, not race.

The Supreme Court told the three-judge panel to take another look at the North Carolina case in light of the high court’s June decision in a Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case, in which the justices said those who brought that case did not have legal standing.

Read the complete article here.

Frustrated Supreme Court Looks For A Solution To Partisan Gerrymandering

From today’s NPR News:

The Supreme Court justices seemed to grasp the problem of gerrymandering in oral arguments on Wednesday and that it will only get worse, as computer-assisted redistricting gets even more refined.

But they appeared frustrated over what to do about it — without becoming the constant police officer on the beat.

This case, involving a Democratic-drawn congressional district in Maryland, is essentially Act II of the gerrymandering play at the Supreme Court.

Act I opened the first week in October when the nine justices heard arguments in a case testing whether there is any constitutional limit to partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing legislative district lines to maximize and perpetuate the power of the incumbent party. At issue in the case is the Republican gerrymander of the Wisconsin Legislature — a design that delivered nearly two-thirds of the districts to the GOP even as Republicans lost the statewide vote.

In the Maryland case argued Wednesday, Michael Kimberly, the attorney for the Republican plaintiffs, contended that the map drawers succeeded in “rigging” an election, and the average American voter understands what’s going on. He dubbed it an affront to democracy.

That’s the kind of argument that Democrats have made about lots of other states throughout the country, where Democrats are underrepresented in both state legislatures and the U.S. House or Representatives.

Read the complete article here.

A Flurry of Courts Have Ruled on Election Maps. Here’s What They’ve Said

From today’s New York Times:

Judges in a number of states have recently thrown out election maps, saying that they have been gerrymandered to the point of being unconstitutional, effectively dooming one party to permanent underrepresentation.

The decisions are certain to have drawn the Supreme Court’s interest as it mulls a resolution to the question of extreme partisan gerrymanders. The justices are expected to decide this spring whether the practice violates the Constitution, and if so, how to determine whether an electoral map is fairly drawn.

Here are the basics of the major contested cases.

Wisconsin: State Assembly districts

How many seats does each party hold?

In the most recent general election, 52 percent of the votes were cast for Republican Assembly candidates, who won almost two-thirds of the seats — 64 out of 99. Democrats received 46 percent of the vote and won 35 seats.

What’s happened so far?

In November 2016, a panel of three judges ruled that the map was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans, the first time a partisan gerrymander was struck down in federal court. The ruling was notable, according to experts, because it provided a clear mathematical formula to measure how partisan a district map is.

The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which took the case(known as Gill v. Whitford) and heard arguments in October 2017.

What’s next?

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the spring, probably setting the course for the other cases in federal court as well.

North Carolina: Congressional districts

How many seats does each party hold?

In 2016, Republican candidates received 53 percent of the votes cast, and won 10 of the state’s 13 seats; Democrats received 47 percent of the votes and won 3 seats.

What’s happened so far?

The map was thrown out and ordered redrawn by a panel of three federal judges on Jan. 9, who said that Republicans had drawn it most recently in 2016 in an attempt to gain a political advantage. The

Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lower court’s order to redraw the map nine days later.

What’s next?

It’s unclear. The Supreme Court has not said whether it will schedule arguments in the case, known as Rucho v. Common Cause. The court may choose instead to let whatever ruling it issues in another gerrymandering case stand as its final word on the matter. Because of the temporary block, experts say the current North Carolina map will probably remain in effect for the midterm elections this fall.

Read the complete article here.

#VotingRights Update: Group Targets GOP States to Attack Gerrymandering

From today’s New York Times:

A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020, officials leading the group said.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed last year under the leadership of Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, has settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process.

Mr. Holder said in an interview that the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds.

The group’s list of high-priority states includes most of the critical states in presidential elections. Mr. Obama, who has made redistricting a focus of his attention since leaving office, plans to visit some of those states in 2018, and Mr. Holder reviewed his strategy with the former president in Washington on Monday, aides said.

States at the top of the just-finalized target list include traditional purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republicans can currently design maps without Democratic input, and others — including Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada — where Democrats have significant influence in government but must defend it in the 2018 elections.

Read the complete article here.

In win for #VotingRights, Federal Court Rules NC Electoral Map Unconstitutional

From the New York Times:

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.

The unusually blunt decision by the panel could lend momentum to two other challenges on gerrymandering that are already before the Supreme Court — and that the North Carolina case could join if Republicans make good on their vow to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.

In October, the court heard an appeal of another three-judge panel’s ruling that Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered Wisconsin’s State Assembly in an attempt to relegate Democrats to a permanent minority. In the second case, the justices will hear arguments by Maryland Republicans that the Democratic-controlled Legislature redrew House districts to flip a Republican-held seat to Democratic control.

Read the complete article here.

Romney picks Ryan for running mate

At a campaign rally in Virginia this morning Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced he is choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be his Vice Presidential choice. This choice proves once and for all that Romney’s economic policy will favor the rich and powerful, while fooling millions of hard-working Americans into believing he stands for their best interests.

Ryan is a controversial figure who is not worthy of presidential reach.

Ryan is a controversial seven-time Congressman from Janesville, WI who is also the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. He has been a long-time Washington insider promoting the interests of the wealthy and powerful by advocating to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanents, even though this policy has helped bring the country to the brink of economic disaster. By extending these tax cuts, which primarily benefit America’s wealthiest tax payers, and pave the way for middle-calls taxpayers to shoulder more of the burden for generating revenue, America’s cities, counties, and states run the risk of bankruptcy as revenue streams dry up. Americans who vote for this ticket can look forward to less basic services, a crumbling infrastructure, and more out-of-pocket expenses. Ryan is no candidate worthy of presidential reach.

The meme above sums up Ryan’s economic philosophical nicely. During the eight years of Bush the Younger’s reign in Washington America saw income inequality increase as the rich got richer and the middle-class got more into debt, record numbers of corporate bankruptcies and fraud such as the mighty collapse of Enron, a war in Iraq we could not afford and did not need, and the erosion of respect for the rule of law and government. In the last three years the Republican’s have continually laid the blame for America’s malaise squarely at the feet of President Obama, but history and the facts show otherwise.

Jim Messina, director for President Obama’s reelection campaign, summed up Ryan’s foolish economic views nicely in a statement released immediately after Romney’s announcement:

“In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes.”

A vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket by any middle-class American, indeed anyone making less than $250,000 is a vote for cutting off one’s own nose to spite one’s face. America is at another crossroads, and the Republican route is one we have been down before and cannot afford to go down again.

Disturbing statistics on WI recall vote

Like support for Prop 8, a supermajority of contributions in the WI recall election came from out-of-state donors.

$63.5 million: The minimum amount spent by both sides in the recall

70 percent: How much more expensive the governor’s recall election is than the state’s second-most expensive race (the 2010 gubernatorial campaign)

$30.5 million: Amount raised by Walker to fight off the recall effort

$3.9 million: Amount raised by his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee

About 2/3: Proportion of Walker’s donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

About 1/4: Proportion of Barrett’s donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

Unlimited: Maximum individual donation Walker may accept under state law

$10,000: Maximum individual donation Barrett may accept under state law

$16.3 million: Amount spent by pro-Walker independent expenditure groups, which have invested $22 million in the Wisconsin recall

Some of the biggest contributions and expenditures in support of Walker:

$510,000 to Walker from Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s richest businesswoman and a member of Charles and David Koch’s million-dollar donor club

$490,000 to Walker from Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder who with his wife has spent more than $8 million on the 2012 elections

$260,000 to Walker from David Humphreys, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$250,000 to Walker from former Amway CEO Dick DeVos of Michigan, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$250,000 to Walker from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife has spent more than $25 million on the 2012 elections

$100,000 to Walker from Wyoming investor Foster Friess, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$100,000 to Walker from New York billionaire Louis Bacon, a media-shy hedge-fund trader

$100,000 to Walker from Dallas oil and gas billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones

$6.5 million on ads spent by Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the anti-labor Center for Union Facts

$4 million on ads spent by the Republican Governors Association‘s Right Direction Wisconsin PAC; only about $7,000 was raised in-state. The RGA got $1 million from David Koch in February. It’s also received $500,000 from the US Chamber of Commerce

Walker survives recall election by outspending his challenger 7-to-1

It’s another disappointing day for “free-and-fair” elections in America.

In his bid to retain office, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin outspent Democratic challenger Tom Barrett 7-to-1. Despite fallacious Republican rhetoric about states’ rights, Walker won the recall election with the help of millions of dollars from out-of-state and corporate campaign contributions.

It would be difficult to determine exactly how much each candidate spent to buy a single vote due to lax and convoluted campaign finance laws. However, here are some facts that can help form a rough estimate.

TOTAL EXPENDITURES:

1. Walker spent about $32 million total in the 2012 recall election, the supermajority of it coming from outside the state by special interests including wealthy individual donors, special interest groups, and SuperPACs. This figure represents almost twice as much as both Walker and Barrett spent together in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

2. Roughly 38 percent of Walker’s individual donations came from WI residents.

For example, the Republican Governors Association alone used independent expenditure and phony issue ad groups, spending an estimated $5 million to sponsor numerous TV ads that claimed voting for Barrett’s would lead to higher taxes and lost jobs.

3. By contrast, Barrett spent about $5 million in this election much of it coming from middle class donors and labor unions representing state workers, teachers, police, and firefighters.

4. Roughly 74 percent of Barrett’s individual donations came from WI residents.

TOTAL VOTES:

1. Walker took 53.1 percent of the vote with 1,334,450 ballots.

2. Barrett took 46.3 percent of the vote with 1,162,785 ballots.

3. The difference is 171,665 ballots.

PRICE POINTS:

1. Walker and his out-of-state supporters effectively paid $23.97 per vote.

2. Barrett and his supporters paid $4.35 per vote, about five times less than Walker.

This is American democracy at its finest in the Age of Money and Propaganda. If political commentators are wondering why Walker is the first governor in American history to survive a recall vote, the answer is clear. He spent more money—most of it coming from people who are not even his constituents.

Instead of reconciling themselves to the inevitable, and going along for the sake of getting along, WI voters would be in their right mind to revolt against state government, which apparently no longer represents them, either by demanding legislation to end campaign contributions from out-of-state contributors, or by storming the state capitol in Madison with pitchforks and torches.

WI recall vote signals dissatisfaction with Republican austerity measures

Voters in Wisconsin today go to the polls in a recall election that the nation and the world are closely watching in anticipation of what is sure to be a close contest this fall between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

In 2010 Republican Scott Walker won the governorship in a tight race against Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat who finds himself challenging Walker again with the help of Wisconsin voters outraged over the anti-union laws and austerity policies passed by Walker in the wake of the financial collapse that left the state with a $3 billion budget deficit.

To close the budget gap Walker initiated austerity policies that included deep cuts to state services, without raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. Even more controversially, he passed legislation with a newly elected Republican state assembly that effectively ended the collective bargaining rights of public union employees including state workers, teachers, police, and fire fighters. The attempt to roll back the rights and benefits of public employees in other states has had mixed success in New Jersey, which successfully did so, but not in Ohio, where voters rejected this strategy.

Wisconsin is a state with labor and populist roots that run deep, reaching back to Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, the famous progressive governor and presidential candidate who stood up for workers and the middle-class against the growing influence of robber barons and corporations on government in the 1920s. That kind of progressive populism is a tradition that the state takes great pride in, and enough voters rejected Walker’s attempt to roll back the gains made by labor that they forced a recall election.

The election is being closely watched around the nation because it might signal the mood of voters concerning the controlling issue of this presidential election:  the role of government in ensuring a fair economy that benefits all citizens. It is also being watched around the world in the wake of several election upsets in European countries such as France and Greece where voters have rejected political parties attempting to implement austerity measures, and have instead elected democratic socialist majorities.

Whether the recall election in Wisconsin signals the mood of the national electorate or workers around the world is an independent issue, however. At stake now is the right of workers in that state to collective bargaining, and to share some measure of power in determining the conditions of their employment. To cede that right to employers such as the state, which Walker’s anti-union policies attempt to do, is to resign millions of middle-class families to job insecurity during a difficult and prolonged recession.

The Republican mantra touted by Walker, Romney, and others is to balance budgets by cutting government services, without also raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. This is a stupid and short-sighted policy that undercuts effective demand in the short and long term, and therefore runs deeply counter to a sound strategy for lifting the economy out of recession. Let’s hope the voters of Wisconsin reject this mantra and return the state to a more sensible path of governance.

State Democrats shut down WI government

Protestors pack the rafters of the State Capitol in Madison, WI.

In a brave move of solidarity with public employee unions the Democratic state senators of Wisconsin walked out of the chamber yesterday in Madison to stall the efforts of Governor Scott Walker to vote on a bill that would effectively end collective bargaining rights of unions. The Wisconsin State Senate requires at least 20 senators to call a vote on fiscal matters, and with a majority of 19 senators the Republican controlled chamber was unable to conduct business. Madison has become a battleground over the last week as protesters, students, unions, teachers, and other progressive forces have descended on it to stage rallies and sit-ins, drawing attention to the anti-union austerity measures introduced by the governor. GO DEMOCRACY!