Republicans just took control of the House because of partisan and racial gerrymandering. Here’s how
Republicans gained control of the U.S. House on Wednesday after having been called the winners of November’s elections in at least 218 districts, ending four years of Democratic majorities. While Democrats will still hold the presidency and Senate, the GOP’s House takeover has ended two years of unified Democratic governance in Washington. Many factors made the difference for what’s guaranteed to be a very narrow GOP majority, but among the most consequential for democracy is that Republicans almost certainly owe their majority to gerrymandering.
In a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2019, every GOP-appointed justice voted over the opposition of every Democratic appointee to prohibit federal courts from curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John Roberts disingenuously argued that judicial intervention wasn’t needed partly because Congress itself could end gerrymandering, at least federally. But following the 2020 elections, every Republican in Congress voted to block a bill supported by every Democrat to ban congressional gerrymandering nationwide, which failed when Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin refused to also curtail the GOP’s filibuster to pass the measure.
Consequently, as shown in the map at the top of this post (click here for a larger version), Republicans were able to draw roughly four out of every 10 congressional districts after the 2020 census—three times as many as Democrats drew. After Republicans blocked Democrats from ending gerrymandering nationally, Democrats largely refused to disarm unilaterally and gerrymandered where they could, just as the GOP did. Republicans, however, had many more opportunities, in large part because state courts struck down a map passed by New York Democrats and replaced it with a nonpartisan map.
By contrast, the Supreme Court and judges in Florida allowed GOP gerrymanders to remain in place for 2022 in four states even though lower courts found that they discriminated against Black voters as litigation continues. Had Republicans been required to redraw these maps to remedy their discrimination, Black Democrats would have been all but assured of winning four more seats, possibly enough to cost the GOP its majority on their own. And in Ohio, Republicans were able to keep using their map for 2022 even though the state Supreme Court ruled it was an illegal partisan gerrymander, potentially costing Democrats another two seats.
Had Republicans in Congress—or their allies on the courts—not blocked Democratic-backed efforts to end gerrymandering nationally and ensure every state draws fair maps, Democrats would likely be enjoying two more years with full control over the federal government and the ability to pass a number of important policies. But because Republicans at the national level and in state after state chose to preserve their power to gerrymander, that outcome will no longer happen.