Litigation Look Ahead: March

A hand holding a crystal ball revealing a courthouse, gavel, mailbox, signature and poll sign that reads "CLOSING TIME 8:00 pm"

As we previewed at the start of the year, voting rights and redistricting litigation is expected to take center stage in courtrooms in 2022. In the first two months of the year, a multi-week trial was held on the legality of Florida’s new voter suppression law; maps were struck down in Alaska, North Carolina and Ohio; and new litigation was filed to protect the right to vote.

As we head into March, we wanted to highlight cases to keep an eye on over the next month. This is not an exhaustive list — new lawsuits will be filed, and pending cases are subject to scheduling conflicts, delays or case developments that change the course of litigation. Keep an eye on our Cases page for any developments in these cases and others.

Voting rights litigation: what to expect.

While a lot of litigation is focused on redistricting right now, cases protecting voting rights are also ongoing across the country. Three omnibus voter suppression laws will go before three state courts, while Republicans attempt to restrict voting access in two other states.

In May 2021, a lawsuit was filed by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas and Arkansas United challenging four new voter suppression laws in the state. The laws attack every aspect of the election process: House Bill 1715 establishes a new absentee ballot application signature match; Senate Bill 643 limits the absentee ballot return period; House Bill 1112 requires voters who lack proper ID when casting their ballots to bring a form of identification to the county clerk’s office within six days; and Senate Bill 486 bans anyone except voters from coming within 100 feet of a polling place, including volunteers who are distributing food and water to voters in long lines. Last fall, the state trial court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, which the Arkansas Supreme Court later affirmed. Due to COVID-related court closures, a bench trial that was originally scheduled for February was reset for March 15-18. At the close of the trial, the judge will determine if the challenged laws violate the Arkansas Constitution. Keep an eye out for an upcoming Case Watch detailing what’s at stake in this lawsuit.
Two voter suppression laws in Iowa will go to trial starting on March 14 before an Iowa state court judge. The League of Latin American Citizens of Iowa is suing over two laws, Senate File 314 and Senate File 568, which establish fewer voter registration opportunities, a shortened period to request and return an absentee ballot, fewer poll hours on Election Day, limits on satellite voting locations and drop boxes and restrictions on who can assist voters with returning their ballots. The bench trial, which is expected to last around 10 days, will determine if the challenged provisions violate the Iowa Constitution and need to be blocked. Keep an eye out for an upcoming Case Watch detailing what’s at stake in this lawsuit.
Three cases challenging multiple new voter suppression laws in Montana were consolidated before a state court judge. The laws affect multiple facets of voting: registration, in-person voting and mail-in voting. Collectively, the plaintiffs are asking the court to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the following laws while the litigation proceeds:

House Bill 176 ends Election Day registration, an option that had been in place in Montana for 15 years.
Senate Bill 169 narrows the list of eligible voter IDs. For example, while concealed carry permits count as an acceptable ID, student IDs must now be accompanied with another form of ID.
House Bill 530 prohibits ballot collection efforts completed in exchange for a “pecuniary benefit,” which generally means money. While paid elections officials are exempt from this law, it is otherwise vague as to whether paid employees of voter assistance organizations would violate this law if they assist with ballot collection. 
House Bill 506 prohibits the mailing of ballots to new voters who will be eligible to vote on Election Day but are not yet 18. 

A preliminary injunction hearing is currently scheduled for March 10, after which the judge will determine if the challenged laws should be blocked until a final ruling is made. 
The fate of mail-in voting in Pennsylvania is in the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In late January, a trial court struck down a law passed in 2019 that expanded voter access, particularly for mail-in voting, after finding it violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. The state officials in the case immediately appealed this ruling to the state Supreme Court, which automatically paused the trial court’s decision. The parties will appear before the court on March 8 to present their arguments for why the law does or does not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Two lawsuits in Texas are going before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month. First, on March 7, Republicans will argue why they should be allowed to intervene in La Union del Pueblo Entero v. Abbott to defend the state’s new voter suppression law, Senate Bill 1. The Harris County Republican Party, Dallas County Republican Party, National Republican Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee were previously denied intervention by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The district court rejected the parties’ argument that they were entitled to intervention “to preserve the structure of the competitive electoral environment and to ensure that Texas carries out free and fair elections” and held that the state defendants were already adequately defending S.B. 1. On appeal, the Republican groups argue that they should be granted intervention to “protect their interest in maintaining the current competitive electoral environment in Texas against a judicial order invalidating SB 1 in whole or in part” — suggesting that S.B. 1’s voter suppression provisions are essential to Republican electoral chances. After oral arguments are held, the 5th Circuit will determine if the Republican groups should be allowed to intervene in the case to defend S.B. 1.

In Longoria v. Paxton, Texas state officials are challenging a preliminary injunction granted by a district court judge. On Feb. 14, an order was issued that temporarily blocked a provision of S.B. 1 that makes it a crime for election officials to encourage eligible individuals to request a mail-in ballot application. Republican officials in the case immediately appealed this decision to the 5th Circuit, which stayed (meaning paused) the preliminary injunction and ordered the appeal to be heard on an expedited basis. Oral argument is currently scheduled for March 8, during which the Republicans will argue that the district court incorrectly granted injunctive relief. The period to request a mail-in ballot has already closed for the state’s March primary, but this ruling could affect the ability of elections officials to encourage mail-in voting in future elections. 

Redistricting litigation: what to expect.

Below we outline cases that are likely to have significant movement in March — for example, if  there is a hearing scheduled or if we are expecting a decision. We’re also closely watching litigation in:

  • Kansas, where multiple state court challenges to adopted maps — and a lawsuit about the state court system’s ability to hear those challenges — are ongoing;
  • Kentucky, where a lawsuit challenging the state’s new congressional and state House maps is proceeding;
  • South Carolina, where parties in a lawsuit challenging the new state House map are attempting to reach a solution; and
  • Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to adopt new maps after taking control of the redistricting process. With candidate filing opening April 15, we can expect a decision soon.
Republicans are challenging Maryland’s new congressional map in a consolidated lawsuit in state court. The parties, which include two Republican House of Delegates members and multiple Republican voters, argue that the new map is a partisan gerrymander that “cracks” and “packs” voters across the state, ignoring political boundaries and county lines, in order to favor Democrats and dilute the voting strength of Republicans. The plaintiffs argue that this map violates multiple provisions of the Maryland Constitution and it should be blocked for future elections. The trial court dismissed one claim but allowed all others to move forward and a trial on the merits is scheduled for March 15-18.
Republican voters and current and past Republican officials are challenging Michigan’s new congressional map in federal court for allegedly violating neutral redistricting criteria and failing to comply with the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote. Two groups of intervenors joined the case to defend the map passed by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. A preliminary injunction hearing is currently planned for March 16, during which the court will decide whether or not to block the enacted map while litigation proceeds. We’re also keeping an eye on a state court challenge to Michigan’s new state House map brought by the League of Women Voters of Michigan, a coalition of voting and civil rights advocates and voters.
Republican voters are currently suing over New York’s new congressional map, which they allege is a partisan gerrymander that favors Democrats in violation of the New York Constitution. On March 3, the parties will appear before a state trial court in Steuben County to address the merits of the congressional map and whether it should be blocked. The court will also determine whether the Republicans can add a challenge to their lawsuit against the new state Senate map. As a special proceeding, the lawsuit must be resolved within 60 days of its Feb. 3 filing, so we can expect to see a lot of activity in the case throughout March.
North Carolina has new legislative and congressional maps after a whirlwind court process began last fall over the state’s districts. After the original maps were struck down by the North Carolina Supreme Court in early January, the General Assembly and parties in the lawsuits submitted new maps for the trial court to consider. The trial court adopted new General Assembly maps passed by legislators and a congressional map drawn by the court-appointed special masters. The North Carolina Supreme Court rejected appeals of the remedial maps, which led Republican legislators to file an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 25 over the new congressional map. They are arguing that the state court system should have no role in redistricting and the congressional map adopted by the judicial system amounts to “judicial activism.” The Republicans are asking the Supreme Court to “put a stop to the North Carolina judiciary’s usurpation of the General Assembly’s specifically enumerated constitutional authority to regulate the manner of congressional elections.” Responses to the application are due by 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 2, after which a decision will be made. We’ll keep you updated on our Alerts page if something happens. 
New maps for Ohio’s legislative and congressional districts hang in limbo following a drawn out redrawing process. After the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the first set of enacted legislative and congressional maps for unduly favoring Republicans in violation of the Ohio Constitution, both maps were sent back to the map drawers to be revised. The Ohio Redistricting Commission passed a second set of legislative districts, which were also struck down by the state Supreme Court for failing to accurately represent the statewide preferences of voters. The commission then missed its deadline to pass its third round of maps, after which the court threatened to hold the commission members in contempt. However, on Feb. 25 — over a week after their initial deadline — the commission adopted a third set of maps, throwing the process into disarray yet again. Briefing on the third set of revised plans is set to wrap up the morning of Thursday, March 3, after which the court will review the plans to determine if they comply with the Ohio Constitution. Meanwhile, Republican voters filed an impasse lawsuit in federal court when the commission missed its deadline to pass the third round of legislative maps. At this point in time, it’s unclear how the concurrent state and federal processes will play out.

After the state Supreme Court struck down Ohio’s enacted congressional map, the Ohio Legislature was tasked with redrawing the map. They failed to reach an agreement by the court-ordered deadline of Feb. 13, which means that map drawing falls to the Ohio Redistricting Commission. The commission has until March 15 to adopt a new map.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a new congressional map on Feb. 23 after taking over the redistricting process following an impasse between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor. While this should have concluded congressional redistricting for the state, Republicans — led by the architect of Texas’ draconian abortion law — have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state court system’s ability to conduct redistricting after a legislative impasse. After the district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order blocking the use of the adopted congressional map, the plaintiffs filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Feb. 28. Similar to the application regarding North Carolina’s congressional map, the parties argue that the state court system cannot play a role in redistricting unless specifically directed to by the Legislature; any other actions violate the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause. Responses to the application are due by 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 3. A preliminary injunction hearing before the district court is currently slated for March 11, but this may change depending on how the Supreme Court acts. Either way, we can expect this lawsuit to move quickly given the fast-approaching election season — make sure to keep an eye on the Case page for ongoing updates.

As always, democracy remains on the docket. That’s why we’ll be providing monthly litigation look aheads, like this one, at the start of each month to ensure you know what to look out for in the courts. In the meantime, be sure to stay up to date on important cases and court decisions on our Cases and Alerts pages.