How Gerrymandering Helped Republicans Win the House

The dome of the U.S. Capitol, colored blue, with the red shapes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio and Utah clustered together at the top.

At the start of the 118th U.S. Congress in January 2023, Republicans will hold 222 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats will hold 213 — one of the closest House margins in years. Had Democrats won just five more seats, they would have retained a bare House majority and full control of Congress.

While keeping the House margin so narrow represents something of an unprecedented success for Democrats, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact that the decennial redistricting process had on this outcome. Republicans spent much of 2021 and 2022 enacting new maps to give themselves an electoral advantage, and this year’s midterms were the first elections held under the new district lines. Though it’s impossible to know for sure what would have happened under a different set of maps, it’s entirely plausible that Republicans only won the House thanks to gerrymandered maps in the following states — and a few helpful assists from the courts.


In 2021, Alabama Republicans — who controlled all the levers of redistricting power in the state — passed a new congressional map featuring just one majority-Black district despite Black Alabamians making up almost 27% of the population. Given the racially polarized voting in the state, the new map meant that Democrats would likely only win one congressional district.

Voters sued over the new map, arguing that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) required the state to draw another majority-Black district, one that would also likely elect a Democrat to Congress. Back in January, a federal three-judge panel agreed, finding in a meticulous opinion that the VRA requires Alabama to draw a second majority-Black district. The court then blocked Alabama from using the map in this year’s elections and ordered the state to draw a new map with a second Black-majority district.

At the request of Alabama Republicans, the U.S. Supreme Court, however, decided to block this decision. In a February order, the Court reinstated the original map for use in this year’s elections and placed the case on its merits docket for argument (which it completed in October). While the Court didn’t give any reasoning for its order, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested in a concurring opinion that it was too late in the election cycle to implement a new map. But Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed with the majority’s decision, arguing that “the District Court properly applied existing law in an extensive opinion with no apparent errors for [the Court’s] correction.”

We won’t know the Court’s decision on the merits of this lawsuit until next year, but in the meantime, Alabama had one less majority-Black district this year than current law seems to require — and one less Democratic district.

Outcome: -1 Democratic seat


In November 2021, when Florida Republicans began considering different proposals to redraw the state’s congressional map, they all agreed on one term: preserving Rep. Al Lawson’s (D) 5th Congressional District, which was designed to give Black Floridians in North Florida the ability to elect a representative of their choice as required by state law. However, in January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) unexpectedly decided to weigh in on the process when he unveiled his own proposal that dismantled the 5th Congressional District, arguing it represented an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. DeSantis’ proposal upended the state’s redistricting process, culminating in a special session that ended with the Legislature passing his preferred plan.

DeSantis’ plan led to a lawsuit in state court challenging the map for violating the Florida Constitution’s Fair Districts Amendment. In May, a trial court judge temporarily blocked the new configuration of the 5th Congressional District, finding that the map likely violated the Fair Districts Amendment. The judge then ordered the map to be replaced with a remedial map that preserved a Black-performing version 5th Congressional District.

Unfortunately, a Florida appellate court ended up pausing that decision as litigation on the full legality of the map moves forward. As a result, DeSantis’ plan was used in the midterm elections and Lawson lost re-election due to the dismantling of the 5th Congressional District. DeSantis’ plan, with an assist by the courts, led to one less Democrat representing Florida in the next Congress.

Outcome: -1 Democratic seat


During the congressional redistricting process, Georgia Republicans took two competitive congressional districts — the 6th and 7th Congressional Districts currently represented by Reps. Lucy McBath (D) and Carolyn Bordeaux (D), respectively — and modified them into a Republican-leaning 6th Congressional District and a heavily Democratic 7th Congressional District. McBath and Bordeaux ended up both running for re-election in the 7th Congressional District. McBath won the primary and midterm election, while Republicans easily won the open 6th Congressional District vacated by McBath. By manipulating McBath and Bordeaux’s districts, Republicans successfully eliminated one Democrat from Georgia’s delegation.

But that wasn’t the only way Republicans manipulated district lines in Georgia. The new congressional map was also challenged in court for diluting Black voting power in violation of the VRA. The plaintiffs argued that Georgia Republicans could have drawn an additional majority-Black district in the western part of the Atlanta metropolitan area. But in March, a district court judge declined to block the map from being used this year even though he found that “there is a substantial likelihood the Enacted Plans violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” The judge pointed to Kavanaugh’s concurrence in the similar Alabama case as justification for not blocking the map, concluding that “it would be unwise, irresponsible, and against common sense for this Court not to take note of” it. Georgia used the challenged map this year, with one less majority-Black district than the VRA seems to require.

Outcome: -at least 1 Democratic seat


Like Alabama, Republicans in Louisiana adopted a new congressional map — over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto — with just one majority-Black district. Likewise, voters in Louisiana sued and a federal district court judge blocked the map from being used this year, finding that the VRA required the state to draw a second majority-Black — and likely Democratic — district. As a result of the decision, Edwards called for a special session to draw a new map. The special session, however, ended without a new map being enacted.

In the interim, Louisiana Republicans filed an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to pause the district court’s decision. On June 28, the Court granted the request and agreed to review the case after it decides the case out of Alabama. As a result, the original map was used in this year’s midterms with one less majority-Black (and likely Democratic) district than a court had ordered.

Outcome: -1 Democratic seat


Last year, Ohio Republicans had to contend with a new voter-approved constitutional amendment designed to prevent partisan gerrymandering. But in spite of the amendment, Ohio Republicans passed a new congressional map that could have given Republicans up to 80% of the state’s seats, despite winning on average 54% of the vote in statewide elections.

In January, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the Republican-passed congressional map for violating the ban on partisan gerrymandering. The court found that the map unduly favored Republicans and ordered a new map to be drawn within 30 days. However, the revised map was only barely changed from the one the court struck down. The revised map was also challenged in court for violating the Ohio Constitution.

Over the summer, the Ohio Supreme Court again found that the map violates the Ohio Constitution, concluding that it was similarly skewed in favor of Republicans. Unfortunately, Ohio’s congressional primaries had already passed by the time the state Supreme Court ruled again, meaning that it was too late for a constitutional map to be drawn and used in this year’s midterms. Due to the delay, Ohio held its elections under a map that improperly favored Republicans — and likely cost Democrats seats in the House they might have won under a fairer map.

Outcome: -at least 1 Democratic seat


Utah voters approved a proposal in 2018 to create a redistricting commission in the state, but Republicans subsequently enacted legislation to diminish the commission’s role to be merely advisory in the redistricting process. Accordingly, Republicans ignored the commission’s proposals, all of which had a Democratic-leaning district centered on Salt Lake City. Instead, they enacted a map that created four safe Republican districts in the state by dividing the county containing Salt Lake City. Rather than follow the nonpartisan commission’s recommendations, Utah Republicans chose to split up Salt Lake City to prevent Utah Democrats from electing a representative of their choice.

There is an ongoing lawsuit against the map, but the plaintiffs didn’t try to block the map before the elections.

Outcome: -1 Democratic seat

Gerrymandering — and an assist from the U.S. Supreme Court — helped Republicans win the majority.

Overall Outcome: -at least 6 Democratic seats

These states demonstrate that the Republicans’ five-seat margin of victory in the House could be attributable entirely to gerrymandering. Had fair maps been in place in Ohio and Utah, as well as additional Black-performing seats in place in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, Democrats may very well have retained control of the House.

As the litigation over the VRA shows, a major factor in the Republican gerrymandering success was intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court’s decision to block the new maps in Alabama and Louisiana directly led to two fewer Democratic seats next year, and may have indirectly led to one fewer seats in Georgia as well. Even though it claims to be nonpartisan, the Court’s meddling in redistricting likely contributed to over half of the Republican margin of victory. It should come as no surprise then that the institution’s approval is at an all-time low.