January 19, 2022
As mandated by the Constitution, every 10 years congressional seats must be reapportioned and each state must redraw its congressional map. With the 2021–22 redistricting cycle now well underway, slightly more than half the states have completed the process. Already, this cycle appears to be one of the most abuse laden in U.S. history. There are a few notable bright spots, but in many states, racial discrimination and extreme gerrymandering are once again prolific.Predictably, many of this round's biased maps achieve their skew at the expense of communities of color. Over the past decade, communities of color accounted for nearly all of the country's population growth. But in redrawing boundaries, Republican map drawers, especially in the South, haven't just declined to create any new electoral opportunities for these fast-growing communities; in many instances they have dismantled existing districts where communities of color won power or were on the verge of doing so. This brazen attack is unprecedented in scale. In state after state, Republicans are claiming that they are drawing maps on a "race-blind" basis and then defending the resulting racially discriminatory maps on the basis of partisanship, cynically exploiting the loophole left when the Supreme Court declared that federal courts were off-limits to constitutional challenges to partisan gerrymandering. If courts are not willing to carefully probe the intersection of race and politics, the ruse may just succeed.Democrats have tried to counteract Republican gerrymandering with aggressive line drawing of their own, but the playing field is not level. Republicans control the drawing of 187 congressional districts in this redistricting cycle; Democrats just 75. If, in the end, the cycle does not end up a wholesale disaster for Democrats, this will largely be attributable to three factors: the unwinding of gerrymanders in states like Michigan with reformed processes, court-drawn maps in states where the redistricting process has deadlocked, and litigation in states where state courts, unlike their federal counterparts, will hear partisan gerrymandering claims.However, the story of the 2021–22 redistricting cycle isn't yet written in stone. As bad as many of the maps drawn thus far are, Congress could upend gerrymandering and racial discrimination by passing the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. If Congress acts quickly enough, it may even be possible to make changes to maps in time for the 2022 midterms. The bill would transform a broken map-drawing process by giving voters powerful new tools to fight both racial and partisan discrimination, including a statutory ban on extreme gerrymandering that would eliminate the loophole states are using to defend racially discriminatory maps. But time is running out. The 2022 primaries soon will be well underway in much of the country, and in short order courts will likely conclude that it is simply too late to make changes to maps for this election cycle.