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Congressional Redistricting Decisions Abound

By Rob Tyson

This week, two federal cases addressed congressional redistricting.  The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held the Ohio legislature could enact a law that reduced the number of days of early voting.  Additionally, a three judge panel in Maryland allowed a law suit that alleges a newly drawn congressional district violates the 1st amendment, to move forward.

In Shapiro v. McManus, a three judge panel by a vote of 2 to 1, denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss.  The Plaintiffs contend the 6th Congressional district which was drawn after the 2010 census, violates the voter’ rights for political association and expression.  The majority concluded “that the plaintiffs’ legal theory [is]…uncontradicted by the majority in any of [the Supreme] Court’s cases.”  Generally, the Supreme Court has allowed states to draw congressional districts for political reasons, i.e. partisan gerrymandering.  However, a challenge based on the 1st Amendment presents a novel issue that may be decided by the Supreme Court. The opinion, Shapiro v. McManus, August 24, 2016 Slip Copy, 2016 WL 4445320, is attached here.

On August 23, 2016, the 6th Circuit, by a vote of 2 to 1, reversed the trial court and upheld a recently enacted  Ohio law which reduced the number of days for early voting from 35 to 29.  The Plaintiffs allege this reduction in days to vote violates the equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  The district court held this reduction in early voting days “resulted in an impermissible disparate burden on some African-American voters.”  The Court of Appeals concluded the state law did not impermissibly infringe on the fundamental right to vote; thus judicial restraint was warranted and proper deference should be given to the Ohio legislative authority.

The argument about whether the prior law allowing 35 days of early voting created a federal floor to which Ohio may add but not subtract, will be an interesting debate moving forward.  Stay tuned for more on this issue.  Ohio Democratic Party v. Jon Husted, August 23, 2016 Slip Copy 2016 WL 4437605.  See here.