Tag Archives: redistricting

Court blocks Wisconsin redistrict plan, orders new maps

A three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Jan. 27 permanently blocked the state’s redistricting plan, which unconstitutionally denies voters the ability to elect lawmakers.

“Yet again, the federal courts have ruled clearly: Wisconsin’s district maps are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, they violate the rights of millions of Wisconsin citizens, and it’s time to move ahead and draw new maps,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which helped organize the lawsuit. “This is a victory for democracy and we look forward to a process to draw these maps that engage the community and invite public participation.”

This ruling by the court ensures that new district maps will be in place for the next state legislative elections, according to a news release.

The case is Whitford v. Gill

And the state is expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lead plaintiff is Bill Whitford, who said, “Now, we will be keeping a watchful eye on the state Legislature as they draw the new maps and I ask them,  for the sake of our democracy, to put partisan politics aside and the interests of all voters first.”

Whitford and 11 Democrats are plaintiffs in the case being handled by the Campaign Legal Center and co-counsel Douglas M. Poland of Rathje & Woodward, LLC, Peter G. Earle, Michele L. Odorizzi of Mayer Brown and Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos of University of Chicago Law School.

Gerry Heber, director of voting rights and redistricting for CLC, stated, “This is truly another monumental victory for the plaintiffs in this case and for all Wisconsin Voters. Today, the court made a clear statement that holding yet another unconstitutional election under Act 43 would cause significant harm to the voters.”

Heber said the Legislature has continuously “demonstrated a disregard for the rights of the voters and an inability to craft a fair, legal redistricting plan” but a new plan would put voters, not partisan politics, first.

Poland said the court gave the state a Nov. 1 deadline for new maps.

He said, “The Legislature has plenty of time to hold hearings with broad participation from Wisconsin citizen. There is no excuse for limiting participation by all interested parties to draw a fair map in an open and transparent process. The time for cloaking the process in secrecy has ended. The plaintiffs, their lawyers, and all of Wisconsin, are watching.”

 

For the record …

State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison: “The cornerstone of democracy is that the people should get to pick their legislators, not that legislators get to pick their voters. Today’s court ruling is a victory for Wisconsinites and democracy in our state, which has been under near-constant attack for the last six years. Voting should be fair, easy, and accessible, and today’s ruling only reinforces what Democrats have been saying for years.”

State senator seeks sponsors for non-partisan redistricting bill

State Sen. Dave Hansen is seeking sponsors for legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting process.

Seeking sponsors marks the next step toward introduction of the bill, according to Hansen, a Democrat from Green Bay.

Hansen is a long-time advocate of redistricting reform that would move responsibility from legislators and political parties to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

“Allowing politicians to draw district boundaries makes it too easy for the majority party to gerrymander the maps to their long-term advantage,” Hansen said in a press statement. “And when parties engage in that behavior it is the voters and the people who are hurt because they are no longer able to check extreme behavior by the majority party.”

In 2011 Republican leaders and staff worked in secret outside the Capitol to draw district lines designed to lock in their legislative majorities for ten years or more.

As a result, in the 2012 election Republicans took over 61 percent of the seats in the Assembly despite winning less than 49 percent of the vote.

“Gerrymandering as we are seeing it practiced is a form of cheating,” Hansen said. “Neither political party should be able to lock in their power by creating an unfair advantage in drawing district lines.”

A federal court has ruled the Republican-drafted maps are unconstitutional, drawn with the intent to lock in GOP control of the Senate and Assembly. The case is on track for a U.S. Supreme Court review.

Hansen said making the legislative change is important regardless of the outcome in the court case.

He said, “No one who looks at the evidence objectively is disputing that the maps drawn by Republican leaders are unfair to the voters. If competition is a good thing in other aspects of society then it is good for our political system. And that’s what we want, fair and competitive elections.”

40 percent of state uncompetitive due to gerrymandering

With the passing of the June 1 deadline for candidate filings for state legislative and congressional seats in Wisconsin, we now have a clearer picture of how just how incredibly uncompetitive Wisconsin’s general elections have become due to gerrymandering.

“Congratulations” to state Senators-elect: Darling, Miller, Stroebel, Wirch, Risser and Craig! You have won already!

Those six, of the 16 State senators running for re-election (or in an open seat) this year, are totally unopposed.

Of Wisconsin’s 99 Assembly seats, more than one-third (34) have incumbents with no opponents in November. There are 17 unopposed Republicans and 17 unopposed Democrats. In an additional six Assembly districts, Republican or Democratic incumbents face only minor party opposition.

That means that in over 40 percent of Wisconsin Assembly elections this fall, there is either none or very little opposition to incumbents — or, in the case of open seats, to the current political party now holding that seat.

Here is the complete listing of candidates for state legislative and congressional districts for both the August primaries and November general election.

This situation is due to the most hyper-partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts in our state history in 2011. Wisconsin also has among the most extreme gerrymandered maps in the nation’s history. Wisconsin voters have far fewer choices than ever before in general elections and the fewest districts on record that can even remotely be considered competitive.
The need for fair voter maps and for an end to partisan gerrymandering has never been more compelling.

GOP state Rep. Dave Martin, who represented Neenah-Menasha from 1961 to 1971, made a compelling case for why Republicans should embrace a non-partisan redistricting process like Iowa has had since 1980. You can read it in this opinion-editorial published June 5 in 10 Gannett-owned Wisconsin daily newspapers.

You can help elevate the need for fair voter maps in Wisconsin by signing (only if you have not yet done so) our petition to the Wisconsin Legislature demanding enactment into law of the Iowa redistricting model for Wisconsin in the next legislative session. Our goal is to get 5,000 signatures by December and we have almost 2,000 now, but we need your help in reaching our goal.
Thank you. Never surrender!

Jay Heck is the executive director of Common Cause. Visit the group’s website at www.commoncusewisconsin.org

Wisconsin redistricting trial wrapped up

Wisconsin Assembly district boundaries that Republicans drew up five years ago have robbed Democratic-leaning voters of their voices, attorneys argued as they wrapped up a federal trial over whether the lines are constitutional.

Gerald Hebert, an attorney for a group of voters who sued over the boundaries, told the panel the boundaries represent the worst example of gerrymandering in modern history and punish Democrats and their supporters by diluting their voting strength.

“Their right to vote is fundamental,” Hebert said during closing arguments. “It’s our voice in the government. It’s the only voice many of us have. It’s not right to target people and harm them because of their voting history. What did they do? They had the nerve to participate in the political process and go to the polls.”

Brian Keenan, a state Justice Department lawyer, countered that the districts reflect that Wisconsin has been trending increasingly Republican. Partisanship is to be expected when one party draws legislative boundaries, he said, adding that there’s no way to legally measure partisan gerrymandering.

“This is actually democracy,” Keenan said during his closing. “The Republicans won the 2010 election. The Constitution gives them the right to (draw district lines).”

Legislators redraw Senate and Assembly district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population shifts.

The task was one of the first chores Republican lawmakers took on after they seized control of both houses and the governor’s office in November 2010, passing a bill less than a year later that re-shaped the districts.

The voter group filed a lawsuit last summer alleging the Assembly boundaries marginalize Democrats by splitting their supporters across districts and consolidating Republican-leaning voters. Hebert said during closings Friday that the plan reduced the number of swing districts from 19 to 10.

The group has asked a three-judge panel to declare the Assembly districts unconstitutional and redraw them if legislators don’t. Such a ruling could Democrats an opening to make gains in the November election as they try to claw their way back into the majority.

The plaintiffs face an uphill battle, though.

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t been able to come up with a legal standard for deciding when redistricting becomes unconstitutional gerrymandering. Their attorneys spent much of the four-day trial trying to persuade the judges to adopt an equation they’ve proposed for measuring when a party has far exceeded the number of votes its candidate needs to win a district. State attorneys maintain the equation lacks any sort of constitutional basis and there’s no way a court can measure gerrymandering.

Keenan worked to show the districts simply reflect how the state has grown more Republican and that partisan maps don’t guarantee a party victory by calling a pair of political analysts to the stand.

 

The judges — U.S. District Judges Barbara Crabb and William Griesbach along with 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Ripple — aren’t expected to issue a ruling for at least several weeks.

Supreme Court faced with tough major decisions

One of the nation’s more liberal nonprofits and one of the most conservative U.S. think tanks may not agree on the best outcomes of the new Supreme Court term, but there’s concurrence on the most significant cases before the justices.

There also seems to be all-around agreement that progressives may not win the type of landmark victories achieved in the 2014–15 term, most notably the high court’s ruling in late June that paved the way for marriage equality across the country. Conservative wins are far more common from the Roberts court.

The court began its new term on Oct. 5, with 34 cases already on the docket and many more expected. The justices will hear arguments in 10 cases this month and arguments in another 10 in November.

Days before the term opened, the liberal People for the American Way issued its “term preview” and the conservative Heritage Foundation issued its “overview.” Both groups said the most significant cases to be heard this fall will deal with affirmative action, organized labor and redistricting. The court also is likely to take up cases dealing with religious liberty, abortion rights and affordable health care.

PFAW, in its preview, cautioned that the justices “have chosen to hear a number of cases that risk continuing the aggressive rightward march that has characterized the past decade. The 2015–16 term may be yet another one where the American people enjoy less liberty, less equality, less power and less control over our own democracy on the last day of the term than we had on the first.”

The Heritage Foundation did not issue such a warning.

A look at new term …

To be argued:

• Redistricting. Perhaps the most prominent case currently before the court is Evenwel v. Abbott from Texas. The justices will decide whether states can or must exclude those not eligible to vote or not registered to vote from population counts in redistricting.

The case deals with equal representation in elected bodies, the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote.” The plaintiffs, who live in rural Texas, maintain that the Constitution requires each vote to be equal, so districts should have equal numbers of eligible voters not equal populations. Current practice is to count everyone in the district.

Another case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Commission, involves a state redistricting plan adopted by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which was created as a result of a ballot initiative aimed at removing partisanship from the mapping process.

The plaintiffs argue that the commission, for partisan reasons, created a map that carved out districts for both parties but to the disadvantage of Republicans.

• Affirmative action. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The court will hear this case for a second time. The plaintiff’s first equal protection challenge to the use of race in undergrad admissions at UT was heard in 2013. Then, the court said schools must prove their use of race in admissions decisions is narrowly tailored to further compelling government interests and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Heritage says the justices will decide whether UT’s diversity rationale for enrolling more minority students from majority-white high schools justifies using race in admissions.

• Union representation. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that because they are not union members, they should not pay fair share fees toward the public employee union’s costs in representing members and non-members alike. The plaintiffs’ claim is that public sector collective bargaining is like lobbying and their fair share fees support political activity, violating their First Amendment rights.

PFAW says, “The decision in this case will have an enormous impact on working people’s ability to join together and effectively negotiate for fair wages and benefits.”

Possible arguments:

• Abortion rights. Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole out of Texas. The case is a challenge to Texas’ requirements that licensed abortion facilities meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Doctors and choice advocates maintain that these types of regulations — adopted in Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker — are medically unnecessary and infringe on women’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights.

Another case, Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges a court ruling against a Mississippi admitting-privileges law.

Conservatives would like the court to hear Currier and progressives would like the court to hear the Texas case.

• Religious liberty. Multiple petitioners want the court to address the accommodation for religious nonprofits to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement. The faith-based groups argue that even the accommodation violates religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Case to overturn Wisconsin’s overtly partisan political districts moves one step forward in court

Democrats challenging Wisconsin’s 2010 political map in court reached a small milestone recently when they filed a rebuttal to state Republicans’ motion to dismiss the case. 

Sachin Chheda, director of the Wisconsin Fair Elections Project, expects the case  — known as Whitford v. Nichols — to get a hearing later this fall by an appeals court panel. The side that loses probably will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has never ruled in a case challenging a political map due to overt partisanship, as this case does, Chheda said.

In the past, the high court has found maps unconstitutional for being drawn in a way that discriminated against minority voters or failed to uphold the principle of “one-person-one-vote.”

“We think we have a strong case (and) we hope to get past the motion to dismiss and get to the trial stage so we can have a full examination of the issues,” Chheda said. “We’re trying to establish a new constitutional standing. The Supreme Court has said that there could be an instance in which a map is too partisan to be constitutional. They’ve never had a measurement by which they can make this judgment. We’re proposing that measurement.”

Chheda is hopeful that a fair and politically neutral map will be in place in time for the presidential election in November 2016.

GOP’s total control

After winning both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion in a tea party wave that swept the nation, Wisconsin Republicans had total control over the process following the 2010 census. Whitford v. Nichols argues that Republicans gerrymandered the state’s political boundaries to such an extent that they pre-ordain the outcome of elections in the state.

And, indeed, the Wisconsin map is so partisan that Democrats won 53 percent of the statewide popular vote in the state’s 2012 midterm elections, yet Republicans gained 61 percent of the state’s legislative seats. Republicans also won 55 percent of contested state Senate seats with only 45 percent of the vote.

“My rights as a voter are being violated,” said retired university professor Bill Whitford, one of the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case. “If my vote counted as much as each one of my fellow citizens, I would be able to affect the shape of the Legislature. But I can’t, because they’ve decided through these maps that I simply don’t count.”

In 2010, Wisconsin Republicans and their attorneys used a mathematical tool called the “efficiency gap” to dilute the votes of Democrats in order to ensure Republicans win more district-level elections, according to the plaintiffs in Whitford v. Nichols and their attorneys.

“Wisconsin voters want fair elections, where every vote counts for something and every voice is heard,” said Peter Earle, the lead trial attorney for the plaintiffs, speaking at a press conference announcing the lawsuit in July. “When one party gains control of the levers of government and then stacks the deck in their favor to keep control, wresting control from the people, that’s contrary to Wisconsin’s tradition of fairness and the requirements of the Constitution for voters and parties to be treated equally.”

The Isthmus reported that GOP lawmakers created the boundaries in secret using private law firms that were paid by taxpayers. GOP legislators, according to the article, were made to sign oaths of secrecy before they could view their own redrawn districts.

Such behavior prompted a group of Democrats to sue the state, arguing they were the targets of political discrimination at the hands of Republican lawmakers.

“This lawsuit is designed to return elections in Wisconsin and across the country to fair contests,” Earle said. “Legislative elections in Wisconsin have become increasingly meaningless. We believe that we now have a standard that the courts can use and that will gain the support of a majority of the Supreme Court, to overturn gerrymandered maps. We have an opportunity to make a major change in how politics works in the United States and help end the partisan gridlock that grips the nation.”

The plaintiffs cited one study that reviewed nearly all the redistricting plans since the 1970s and found Wisconsin’s to be one of the most gerrymandered.

National Issue

The problem is national in scope: In 2012, Republicans maintained a 33-seat majority in the U.S. House, even though GOP candidates as a group got 1.4 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents and President Barack Obama was re-elected by an Electoral College landslide.

Today the nation has the largest number of state governments run by Republicans since the 1920s. Observers also say the nation has an historic level of lawsuits over the political maps they drew.

The numbers are staggering: In 2011, 428 congressional districts in 43 states were ordered redrawn, along with 7,382 state legislative districts and hundreds of thousands of local district boundaries. Democrats were at fault for drawing 44 gerrymandered congressional districts and 885 state legislative districts. Republicans were responsible for nearly five times the number of district boundaries as Democrats were.

Courts have rejected all or part of redistricting plans in at least nine states. And courts had to draw the lines themselves in 10 states, due to legislative stalemate, according to Loyola Law School.

Courts this year are likely to draw new maps in Florida and Virginia after legislators in those states failed to agree on new maps to replace earlier ones thrown out by judges. Alabama may need to redraw its district lines after the Legislative Black Caucus went to court arguing that Republican state legislators drew them to reduce the voice of minority voters.

Redistricting plans have also been challenged legally in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Arizona and Rhode Island.

What is gerrymandering?

Following the U.S. census at the start of each decade, boundaries for political districts must be redrawn to reflect population shifts. Though in some states commissions are responsible for drawing new congressional and state legislative maps, most states, including Wisconsin, allow state legislators to do the job.

Drawing legislative districts to give an edge to one party, commonly called “gerrymandering,” has been going on in the United States for at least two centuries. Most states don’t explicitly prohibit it. The term “gerrymander” comes from the name of 19th-century Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who signed into law an unpopular redistricting plan that included one state senate district shaped like a salamander.

— Stateline and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

GOP fights challenge to gerrymandered Assembly map

The Wisconsin Department of Justice wants a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the redistricting map drawn by lawmakers to the benefit of the GOP.

Meanwhile, a grassroots petition drive aimed at revamping the redistricting process is getting attention in the state. The petition circulating on the Web by the nonpartisan group Common Cause Wisconsin calls on lawmakers to remove politics from redistricting decisions.

Every 10 years, state legislatures redraw the boundaries of state and federal political districts based on the results of a new U.S. Census. The intent is to reflect changes in population and ensure fair representation — one person, one vote.

But in many states, like Wisconsin, lawmakers draw the districts in a way that favors their parties.

There now are several skirmishes over redistricting maps drawn and adopted after the 2010 census, including in:

• Florida, where a court ruled that the Florida Legislature violated a pair of 2010 state constitutional amendments banning partisan redistricting. The Florida House adopted a map on Aug. 18 that contained changes for all 27 of the state’s congressional districts. 

• Virginia, where a federal court will redraw the state’s congressional districts after it became clear that lawmakers would fail to reach agreement on redistricting by a court-mandated Sept. 1 deadline. 

• North Carolina, where legislators are working on a redo of the state’s congressional map under court order.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a federal lawsuit filed earlier this summer challenges the 2010 state Assembly map, alleging the map benefits Republicans and the boundary lines were drawn in secret, at the offices of a law firm hired by GOP leaders.

The 30-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Madison on behalf of 12 Democrats, alleges the map is “one of the worst gerrymanders in modern American history.” The Democrats argue that gerrymandering is unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic. The complaint seeks a review by a panel of three judges that could put the dispute on a fast track to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is headed by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, filed a motion to dismiss the challenge in mid-August. The state argues:

• Plaintiffs do not have standing unless they live in a gerrymandered district.

• No standard exists for measuring the impact of a gerrymander on the right to legislative representation.

However, a report from Common Cause Wisconsin suggests an obvious measurement — election results. 

In the first election after redistricting, Republicans won 60 of 99 Assembly seats but Democrats won a majority of the statewide votes cast in Assembly races.

Also, a CCW report released earlier this summer shows that Wisconsin state legislative races in 2014 were far less competitive than those in 2010. Only 10.3 percent of winning candidates defeated their opponents by less than 10 percent in 2014. Four years earlier, before the new map was drawn, about 23.3 percent of races were within 10 points.

While the legal fight over the current map continues in federal court, CCW is encouraging lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a nonpartisan process for redrawing boundaries. Common Cause is a nonprofit dedicated to good government and accountability.

CCW encourages Wisconsin voters to support the nonpartisan redistricting effort via a petition.

“As Wisconsinites, voters and constituents, we call on you to reform Wisconsin’s current partisan redistricting system,” the petition states. “We look to you, our elected representatives, to bring competition back to Wisconsin’s elections, ensuring that voters have a real choice at the polls, by removing politics from — and restoring transparency to — a process that has become far too partisan, secretive and expensive.”

The petitioners propose a process similar to one that Iowa implemented in 1981, in which legislative boundaries are drawn by a nonpartisan state agency.

The goal for Wisconsin would be to establish such a process in time for redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census.

Common Cause and other good-government groups are pushing reform in other states, including Ohio, where voters on Nov. 3 will decide a ballot initiative intended to reduce partisanship in redistricting.

In November 2016, Illinois voters could consider a constitutional amendment to create a citizens commission to draw legislative districts. In Indiana, a newly created legislative commission is studying redistricting options. 

Reform efforts also are underway in Minnesota, where gridlock over redistricting has resulted in court-drawn maps for decades.

Supreme Court upholds Arizona redistricting commission

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona ruling on June 29 determined the fate of the state’s bid to remove partisan politics from the process of drawing districts for its members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In this 5-4 ruling, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court’s four liberals in backing an independent commission approved by the state’s voters to draw the districts.

The court ruled that the ballot initiative did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that state legislatures set congressional district boundaries. The ruling could pave the way for more states to adopt similar procedures. Six other states, including California, already have independent commissions.

Critics say partisan “gerrymandering” leads to House of Representatives districts being drawn in a way intended to give the party controlling the legislature the maximum number of seats possible while marginalizing voters favoring the other party.

Decisions in final 3 Supreme Court cases expected today

Meeting today for the final time until the fall, the Supreme Court has three cases remaining to be decided:

— Lethal injection: Death-row inmates in Oklahoma are objecting to the use of the sedative midazolam in lethal-injection executions after the drug was implicated in several botched executions. Their argument is that the drug does not reliably induce a coma-like sleep that would prevent them from experiencing the searing pain of the paralytic and heart-stopping drugs that follow sedation.

— Independent redistricting commissions: Roughly a dozen states have adopted independent commissions to reduce partisan politics in drawing congressional districts. The case from Arizona involves a challenge from Republican state lawmakers who complain that they can’t be completely cut out of the process without violating the Constitution.

— Mercury emissions: Industry groups and Republican-led states assert that environmental regulators overstepped their bounds by coming up with expensive limits on the emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants without taking account of the cost of regulation at the start of the process. The first-ever limits on mercury emissions, more than a decade in the making, began to take effect in April.

The justices also could say today whether they will take on important cases for the term that begins in October on abortion, affirmative action and the power of unions that represent government workers.

A closer look at key cases before the Supreme Court

A look at some of the noteworthy cases the Supreme Court will hear this term, which begins Monday:

-Mistaken traffic stop: A broken brake light led a North Carolina police officer to pull over a car in which cocaine was later found. Turns out, the state requires only one functioning brake light. The court is weighing a case about whether a defendant’s constitutional protection against unreasonable searches was violated because of the officer’s mistaken understanding of the law.

-Prison beards: An Arkansas inmate is challenging a prison policy that prevents him from growing a short beard in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs. Prison officials say the policy prevents inmates from concealing contraband or quickly changing their appearance in an escape.

-Teeth whitening: The North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners is challenging a Federal Trade Commission order that said the dentist-filled board is trying to kill off competition from day spas and tanning booths that offer teeth-whitening.

-Dishonest juror: Claims that a juror’s comments during trial deliberations over a South Dakota traffic accident raise questions about her impartiality and possibly could result in a new trial.

-Born in Jerusalem: The case of an American born in Jerusalem who wants his passport to list his birthplace as Israel underlies a major dispute between Congress and the president, with Middle Eastern politics as the backdrop. The United States has never recognized any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, believing the city’s status should be resolved in peace negotiations. The administration says a 2002 law passed by Congress allowing Israel to be listed as the birthplace of Jerusalem-born Americans would in essence be seen as a U.S. endorsement of Israeli control of the city.

-Alabama redistricting: Democrats and black lawmakers contend that Republican leaders in Alabama drew a new legislative map that illegally packed black voters into too few voting districts to limit minority political power. Republicans say they complied with the law by keeping the same number of districts in which black voters could elect candidates of their choice.

– Facebook threats: A Pennsylvania man challenges his conviction for making threats on Facebook. He says his online rants about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a school and slitting an FBI agent’s throat were simply rap lyrics, and that he didn’t mean to threaten anyone.

– Pregnancy discrimination: A United Parcel Service employee says the company failed to accommodate her pregnancy when it refused to give her light-duty work. But UPS contends its policies are “pregnancy-neutral,” allowing light-duty assignments only in cases where employees are injured on the job or have certain medical conditions.

-Housing discrimination: For the third time, the court has agreed to hear a challenge from Texas to an important tool the government is increasingly using to fight discrimination in housing. Two earlier cases settled before the justices could weigh in on the legality of determining discrimination from the results of a policy that disproportionately affects minorities, rather than by showing any intent to discriminate.

-Religious discrimination: Retailer Abercrombie and Fitch is defending its denial of a job to a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf by arguing that she did not say during her interview that she wears the hijab for religious reasons.

Cases the justices could decide to hear before the term ends in late June:

-Gay marriage: Both sides want the justices to settle the question of whether same-sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexuals under the Constitution. A court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage would grant marriage rights to same-sex couples in all 50 states, up from 19 states and the District of Columbia. A decision in favor of state marriage bans would allow states to continue setting the rules on whether to allow same-sex couples to wed.

-Abortion: Several states have passed laws in recent years aimed at limiting abortion by imposing hospital admitting privilege requirements on doctors who perform abortions, forcing abortion clinic facilities to meet tougher standards and preventing doctors from prescribing pills for medical abortions later in a pregnancy and at a lower dose. The court could take one or more cases that are winding through the courts.

-Voting disputes: Identification requirements and limits on early voting are among state voting laws that could make their way to the Supreme Court this term. The court already has jumped preliminarily into a case over early voting in Ohio and seems likely to want a full-blown review. But a decision on hearing that case could come late enough in the term to push back the argument and decision to the following term that begins a year from now.

-Contraception: The next fight over the new health care law’s requirement that contraception be offered to women among a range of preventive services at no extra cost concerns the responsibilities of religious not-for-profit universities, hospitals and other institutions. The Obama administration already allows those organizations to shift responsibility for coverage to their insurers, but the groups say that so-called accommodation still is a burden on their religious consciences. In June, the justices said family-owned corporations with religious objections do not have to pay for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans.

-Health care subsidies: Legal challenges to the health care law continue in several states that would drastically reduce the number of Americans eligible for subsidies to make health insurance affordable. One appeal of a court ruling denying a challenge to the subsidies already is pending at the Supreme Court, although the pace of the other cases suggests the justices are more likely to wait, if they even are willing to undertake another high-stakes fight over the health care law.

-Affirmative action: The court could get another crack at the University of Texas admissions policy that takes race into account among many factors in filling some seats in entering freshmen classes. Lower courts upheld the Texas policy following a Supreme Court decision in 2013 that ordered a new review. The case currently is being appealed to the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.