Federal Redistricting BIlls in 111th Congress

by Brian Bennett // Published October 29, 2010

There are four redistricting bills that are currently being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bills primarily deal with independent redistricting commissions, transparency requirements and standards for redistricting plans. Given that Congress will only take up limited legislation during its final lame duck deliberations, all the bills are unlikely to pass in this Congress, but may be considered again in 2011-12.

•    HR 3025 provides vague standards for the establishment of independent redistricting commissions that comply with US laws. Although it has 32 co-sponsors it has not had any movement in fifteen months, and is sponsored Congressman John Tanner (D-TN), who is retiring.
•    HR 4918, also sponsored by Congressman Tanner, has received the most support with 39 co-sponsors. It advocates for public transparency in the redistricting process. However, it also has been sitting in committee for four months.
•    H.R. 5596 may have a better chance of serious consideration,, particularly if Democrats maintain control of the US. House of Representatives and California voters approve redistricting reform for Members of Congress. Although it has been in subcommittee for four months, it is sponsored by the current chair of the subcommittee on elections, Congresswoman Zoe Lofrgren, (D-CA), and has twelve co-sponsors,  all Democratic members of the California delegation who may be all the more anxious to have national reform standards if their state approves reform this fall. It provides background information for the proper composition and standards for independent redistricting commissions.
•     Sponsored by Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), H.R. 6250 provides strict standards that redistricting commissions must abide by in their processes. Although it has only been in committee for a month, and has no co-sponsors .

As history has shown, any redistricting bill coming through Congress will be a difficult proposition. Although Article I, Section IV provides that Congress can exert authority over the states in the re-districting process, efforts to improve standards have generally met with fierce opposition because of strong Federalist concerns. When single member districts were first required in 1842, President John Tyler signed the bill with a message of protest and some states initially defined the ban. Future legislation may become all the more difficult if Republicans assume control of Congress, as in recent years national Democrats have been relatively more supportive of reform .

The following analysis provides more detail on the various bills currently in the House of Representatives:

H.R. 3025

H.R. 3025 text found here

Introduced by John Tanner with 32 co-sponsors, HR 3025 was referred to House subcommittee on 7/23/2009.

Titled the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2009, HR 3025 prohibits a state that has been redistricted after an apportionment from being redistricted again until after the next apportionment of Representatives, unless the state is ordered by a court to conduct such a subsequent redistricting in order to: (1) comply with the U.S. Constitution; or (2) enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

HR 3025 requires redistricting to be conducted through a plan, developed by the independent redistricting commission established in the state, or if such plan is not enacted into law, the redistricting plan selected by the state's highest court or developed by a U.S. district court.

This bill prescribes requirements for: (1) establishment of a state independent redistricting commission (including provisions for holding each of its meetings in public and maintaining a public Internet site); (2) development of a redistricting plan (including soliciting and considering public comments) and its submission to the state legislature (with public notice of plans at least seven days prior to such submission); (3) selection of a plan, under specified conditions, by the state's highest court or the U.S. district court for the district in which the capital of the state is located; (4) special rules for redistricting conducted under a federal court order; and (5) Election Assistance Commission payments to states for carrying out redistricting.

Opponents are likely to feature critiques based on these requirements being burdensome and independent redistricting commission being inappropriate for their states.

H.R. 4918 

HR 4918 text found here

HR 4918 was introduced by John Tanner with 39 co-sponsors. It was referred to subcommittee on 6/15/10 with bi-partisan support.

The Redistricting Transparency Act of 2010 requires states to carry out congressional redistricting in accordance with a process under which members of the public are informed of redistricting proposals via the internet and have the opportunity to participate in the development of such proposals prior to their adoption.

HR 4918 requires each state’s redistricting entity to establish and maintain a public internet site meeting specified requirements.

This bill requires the state redistricting entity to: (1) solicit the input of members of the public in its work to develop initial congressional redistricting plans for the state; and (2) post the proposed final plan on the Internet site 10 days before its adoption, as well as 7 days after its adoption, together with a map, the reasons for adoption, dissenting opinions, and certain other information.

This bill has been in the subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties since 6/15/10.

H.R. 5596

HR 5596 text found here

The Redistricting Reform Act of 2010, introduced by Zoe Lofgren (who chairs the subcommittee on elections), has obtained 12 co-sponsors. It was introduced to the Judiciary committee on 6/24/10. This bill would require the states to establish independent redistricting committees and eliminate mid-decade redistricting.

In the event that the Commission cannot establish a redistricting plan, the state Supreme Court will be tasked with drawing the lines. This provision does not establish the number of members on the Commission; rather, the nominees are chosen by the majority and minority leaders of the upper and lower house of the state legislature.

The commission nominees receive recommendations from the Governor who picks from a “pool”. This “pool” is chosen by submitting an application to the Governor. To be eligible, a person must not be a public office holder, must be registered to vote in the last two federal elections, must not a registered lobbyist or works for a politician, must not have family that are candidates, and they must promise not to run for election until after the next reapportionment .

The “independent” member is chosen by 2/3 of the members already on the commission. The Governor has the power to decide how many members, but only says it cannot exceed 19 members. The governor is required to put the plan online at least 10 days before enactment, and make all meetings open to the public. They may submit the plan to the state legislature for approval, but HR 5596 does not specify what majority is necessary to “accept” or “reject” the plan. The funding for the redistricting commission would actually come from the EAC.

This bill has the highest-profile sponsor of current redistricting reform legislation. However, there are federalism and Tenth Amendment concerns that may be too difficult to overcome in passage when it comes to a vote in the House – particularly without more certainty of the level of commitment of the bill’s sponsors.

H.R. 6250

HR 6250 text found here

HR 6250, known as the Congressional Redistricting Formula Act, was referred to House Committee on 9/29/10 by Devin Nunes with no-sponsors. http://nunes.house.gov/

HR 6250 would impose standards on redistricting that include: creating an equal population for each district, drawing districts so as to promote contiguity of territory, consistency with Voters Right Act, no dilution of voting rights, and avoiding division of unites of local government. The bill does not give any standards for enforcement of these provisions.

Under the bill, avoiding division of local unities of government would be enacted by: allowing no more than one Congressional district to cross the common boundary between any 2 counties, townships, towns, villages, cities, or any other units of local government; allowing no Congressional district to contain more than 2 fragments of counties, townships, towns, villages, cities, or any other units of local government; and allowing no county, township, town, village, city, or other unit of local government to contain more than 2 Congressional district fragments.

The bill also calls for the general compactness of districts, which would include: Each district containing no less than 60 percent of the population contained in that figure drawn around that district, bounded by only straight lines, with the shortest possible perimeter; The average of the sum of percentages calculated under clause for all the districts in the State shall not be less than 75 percent; Only the population within the State in which each district is located shall be used in making the calculations described in clauses and except that the population of offshore islands may be excluded in making these calculations.

Additionally, the bill implements a public notice requirements, which mandates that during the period, the entity of the government of a State which responsible for conducting Congressional redistricting in the State shall make available on the Internet (on a continuously updated basis) all of the population and demographic data which is used by the State to develop Congressional redistricting plans.

Congressman Nunes currently features his press release on introduction of the bill on the homepage of his website. http://nunes.house.gov/ The fact that the sponsor is a Republican makes this a bill to keep an eye on if Republicans take over the House of Representatives in the November 2010 elections.