Do you want the shape of your congressional district decided by Washington bureaucrats or unelected judges? That’s what H.R. 4, otherwise known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, will do.
To begin with, H.R. 4 makes it impossible for states to draw and defend redistricting plans that reflect their neighborhoods. Redistricting is based on U.S. Census data about voting populations. However, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2020 data using a differential privacy standard, ostensibly to protect data about individual voters from being publicly available. But this method obscures the results so much as to make them unusable. The National Conference of State Legislatures explains how the differential privacy method can result in reported data at the local level that does not match the actual data:
[T]he total population in each state will be “as enumerated,” but that all other levels of geography—including congressional districts down to townships and census blocks—could have some variance from the raw data.
Virginia has already discovered factual inaccuracies in the 2020 U.S. Census about people living in unoccupied areas and uninhabited areas containing residents in the Commonwealth:
More than a dozen children live on a Virginia Beach block where only a 7-Eleven and urgent care center stand, according to the 2020 Census.
Meanwhile, no one resides in a block of mansions in the southern area of the city. And the Pacific Islander population rose more than 300% in Virginia counties that previously had few of them.
In addition to requiring states to rely on unusable data, H.R. 4 creates a new private right of action to file lawsuits and expands the involvement of the federal government in such cases. As a result, H.R. 4 will lead to an explosion in the already highly litigated redistricting field and create an extraordinary power imbalance by allowing the federal to override states. Under H.R. 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will choose which states are under heightened review of their redistricting plans and will have the discretion to launch more litigation challenges to redistricting. The U.S. Census Bureau has not publicly released all the voting population data justifying which states they challenge, and H.R. 4 prevents states or private litigants from accessing or challenging that data.
H.R. 4 will also put state legislators between a rock and a hard place—requiring them to consider race in redistricting while simultaneously prohibiting racial discrimination and despite the Constitution’s prohibition on racial classifications. States will have to know the race of their voting populations to draw majority-minority districts, without accurate information about the numbers of the voting population of racial minorities who vote in a bloc from the Census bureau. As a result of all this confusion, states won’t be drawing congressional districts. Unelected judges will. H.R. 4 revokes the longstanding Purcell principle, which recognizes that drawing districts is inherently political and cautions courts to avoid deciding such disputes. The Ohio State Election Law Program explains the Purcell principle:
Under the Purcell principle, courts should not change election rules during the period of time just prior to an election because doing so could confuse voters and create problems for officials administering the election.
It is not the job of a judge to draw political maps. Take the absurd result in Texas: A federal appeals court drew an interim map for a primary election, and after the election, the same court later found its own map to be illegal.
H.R. 4 means more expensive partisan-driven lawsuits. Election lawyer John Ryder explains the rise of partisan-motivated redistricting cases in the Wall Street Journal:
[W]e have plaintiffs who argue that because redistricting hasn’t yielded the results they want, they are entitled to judicial intervention.
The burden of civil rights litigation by the federal government against states—including the specious cases—will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers.
H.R. 4 will surrender the people’s pen to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Congress should remember that it is the people who live in the Congressional districts who send representatives to the nation’s capital, not the other way around.