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Between the Lines: Redistricting Halftime Show

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It’s believed that Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle’s upstate New York district is on the chopping block. But that may not be the case if the new map is drawn by a three-judge panel.

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As House Members departed for August recess this week, mapmakers were close to completing almost 40 percent of the Congressional maps getting redrawn this cycle.

So far, the score is tied. Expected Democratic gains produced by the Illinois and California redraws were off set by Republican-drawn maps in North Carolina and Texas.

But the ball game is far from over. The boundaries of at least 226 House seats are still up for grabs. Here are the top five unanswered redistricting questions heading into the second half of the game:

1. Who will get the boot in the Ohio delegation?

The Buckeye State map is perhaps the best-kept redistricting secret of the cycle. Ohio will lose two House seats next year, at least one of which will likely be Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D) Cleveland-area district.

But what about the other House seat? Until recently, Republicans privately hinted two GOP freshmen would face off in a single, east-central Ohio district.

But that might not be the case anymore. Speaker John Boehner (R) was clearly unamused with Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan’s willingness to publicly disparage his debt ceiling bill last week. In the midst of the GOP infighting, the Columbus Dispatch reported Jordan’s district might be on the chopping block.

Ohio Republicans, including the Speaker, denied the report. But it’s worth noting that Jordan was one of 66 Republicans to vote against leadership on the final debt ceiling deal earlier this week.

2. Will federal courts accept the Texas map?

Texas has four new House seats next year, and Republicans could pick up that same number of federal courts approve their aggressive map for preclearance.

Democrats already filed several lawsuits protesting the Texas map, charging insufficient minority representation. But either the Justice Department or the District of Columbia’s federal courts will make the final call on the Texas map.

If the courts deny preclearance, federal judges will likely redraw the map for 2012.

Republicans fear a court-drawn map because it’s completely unpredictable — and because history shows they should be scared. A court-drawn map benefited Democrats in 2001 and prompted the controversial redraw led by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in 2003.

3. Will a divided New York Legislature agree on a map?

A Democratic state House, a Republican state Senate and a Democratic governor make for a messy map-drawing process. That’s the scenario in New York, which will lose two House seats this cycle.

There’s already some consensus where lawmakers might cut those two seats. Specifically, former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D) New York City seat and freshman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle’s (R) upstate seat are on the chopping block.

But  if New York lawmakers cannot agree on a map, a federal three-judge panel redraws the Congressional boundaries. It’s then anyone’s guess which districts will get the ax.

4. What will the courts decide in Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada?

Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada are traditional battleground states — and all three are headed to court after their legislatures failed to pass new Congressional maps. There are 19 House seats between the three states.

There are at least three competitive House seats up for grabs among Colorado’s seven seats. Rocky Mountain State officials scheduled the redistricting trial for early October, and party officials hope to have a map in place by November.

A new court-drawn map will determine whether Minnesota’s several competitive districts stay that way. A court-sanctioned, special redistricting panel will begin hearings on the new map in October.

In Nevada, Democrats could pick up two seats, depending on the new Congressional boundaries. A federal court will appoint a panel of special masters to draw the Nevada map.

5. How aggressive will Florida Republicans be in light of the Fair Districts amendment?

Republicans boast huge majorities in the Florida House and Senate and hold the governor’s mansion. So the Florida GOP should be able to make huge gains through the mapmaking process in Florida, right?

Not so fast. A booming Hispanic population gave Florida two new House seats. GOP lawmakers will have to draw those Hispanic populations — which traditionally vote for Democrats — into coherent districts in order to adhere to the Voting Rights Act. 

What’s more, Florida voters approved a new Fair Districts amendment last year.

How Republicans interpret that amendment will have a great effect on the map. They could use it in their favor to pick up a couple of seats or just shore up the four seats they picked up last cycle.

Florida courts will likely determine if Republicans adhered to the new amendment. Both sides expect a litigious battle that will last through next summer.

South Carolina: New Map Becomes Law; New Seat Favors GOP

Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed a new Congressional map into law Monday, adding a 7th district to the northeast part of the state. Anchored in Republican Horry County, the new district favors the GOP, something Haley hinted at in her remarks.

“In this day and time, when we have a situation where we are dealing with the battles of Washington, we need as many conservative votes as we can get,” Haley said at a signing ceremony in Myrtle Beach for the redistricting law. “And guess what? We’re going to send one more to D.C. to help fight for us, and that’s a great thing.”

Roll Call rates the new district as Likely Republican.

Under the Voting Rights Act, the final lines are subject to approval from either the civil rights division of the Justice Department or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The state Democratic Party is likely to sue over the map.

Louisiana: New Map Clear, Landry-Boustany Is Set to Go

The Justice Department precleared Louisiana’s new Congressional map Monday. Under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the state is among those that must get approval for changes to district lines.

In a letter to the state, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said the attorney general “does not interpose any objection to the specified change” of the Congressional map — which is legalese for approval. Though Perez also notes in the letter that preclearance doesn’t preclude later litigation.

Louisiana lost a seat as a result of reapportionment. Despite substantial population loss in New Orleans between 2000 and 2010, the new map retains a majority-minority district. While the current 2nd district includes just New Orleans and its environs, the new 2nd district snakes from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) represents the 2nd district and should have no trouble winning re-election under the new lines.

The hottest Congressional race in the state is likely to be a GOP “jungle” primary pitting Rep. Charles Boustany against Rep. Jeff Landry in the safely Republican 3rd district.

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