Maps, They Don't Draw You Like I Draw You with Michael Li | Crooked Media
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February 07, 2022
What A Day
Maps, They Don't Draw You Like I Draw You with Michael Li

In This Episode

  • The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Republican-drawn congressional and state legislative maps constituted partisan gerrymanders that violated the state’s constitution. This is just the latest example of courts recently acting as a line of defense against maps that are very clearly drawn to increase Republicans’ electoral odds. Michael Li, the senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, joins us to discuss the impact of redistricting efforts across the country.
  • And in headlines: Amir Locke was killed by Minneapolis police after they entered his apartment during a no-knock raid, Olympic athletes took to social media to call out the poor living conditions for athletes in isolation in Beijing, and Southwest Airlines announced that it would resume serving alcohol on its flights.


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Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, February 7th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where everything we scripted for today was ripped up by former President Donald Trump.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, this man never met a piece of paper that he did not rip. It is actually insane.


Josie Duffy Rice: In his defense, we did print out our only copy and express mailed it to Mar a Lago.


Gideon Resnick: Whoops. On today’s show, protests in Minneapolis follow the police shooting of Amir Locke. Plus, Southwest is about to start pouring it up again on flights.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first on Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Republican-drawn congressional and state legislative maps constituted partisan gerrymanders that violate the state’s constitution. The proposed maps had basically granted Republicans control of at least 10 of the 14 House seats in North Carolina, despite the fact that the state is often one of the closest in presidential contests and voters are effectively split 50-50 across the state. Per Friday’s ruling, the Legislature will now be required to draw new maps and submit them to a lower court within two weeks. This is just the latest example of courts recently acting as a line of defense against attempts at egregious partisan gerrymanders. A similar situation played out in Ohio last month, and in Alabama, federal judges said that a proposed Republican drawn map needed to be redrawn because only one of the state’s congressional districts had a majority of Black voters. Alabama has since appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, during this round of redrawing, the new maps have created less competitive districts by far, which for innumerable reasons makes our democracy even less functional. If your reelection is effectively guaranteed, how can you ever be accountable to your constituents, for example. To put a number to it, of the 269 congressional districts whose maps have been completed so far, there are just 13 that are considered toss ups at the moment. That’s according to the Cook political report. 13!


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s crazy.


Gideon Resnick: Republicans control the process for far more districts and Democrats across the country, and in places like Texas, it’s evident how the map making is simply entrenching their power. As Bloomberg notes, in 2020, there were 10 congressional districts in Texas where the margin between Biden and Trump was within four points. The new map only has one of those. And that is the state, of course, that has experienced tremendous population growth in the last census, growth that was specifically among nonwhite citizens. Meanwhile, Democrats approved a new map in New York last week that gives them an opportunity to flip three traditionally Red House seats, including one newly-drawn district that incorporates Staten Island and Park Slope, which, if you have read or seen anything about New York, you know, is a little bit weird. For those who are uninitiated, Staten Island is where you could easily still find MAGA stickers and Park Slope is where you could still easily find Persist stickers—if you catch my drift on the political differences. They’re also separated by water. For more on this entire process, what comes next, and what it all is going to mean, I spoke with Michael Li again. He is a senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. I should note that we spoke before the ruling from North Carolina Supreme Court came down, and he began here by talking about the case pertaining to Alabama’s map and what it would do for the future of gerrymandering.


Michael Li: So the Alabama case, a little bit of background, a court in Alabama struck down that state’s congressional maps because it only had one Black majority district, and the court said really that under the Voting Rights Act, there should be two Black majority districts. The Black population of Alabama is about 27%. Two districts would mean that 28% of the districts were Black majority districts. And it’s fairly easy to do in Alabama, to draw that, but Alabama has challenged that, saying you really can’t draw a second Black majority district and comply with all of the traditional rules that the state uses. But what Alabama really is arguing is that state law in some ways can trump the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, and they’re asking the court to reinterpret how you apply the Voting Rights Act. And if that happens, then you won’t really have liability under the Voting Rights Act in very many instances. You know, Alabama’s basically saying, you can’t deliberately set out to see whether you can draw a second Black district, because that would mean that you’re thinking about race and we’re supposed to be a colorblind society so how can you dare think about race? And so I think when you look at that in connection with also the affirmative action case which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear next term, I mean, there’s a lot of, I think, worry the Supreme Court wants a lot less use of race in society, you know, both in redistricting and writ large.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And to that point, do you have any sort of sense of what the decision could be?


Michael Li: The first thing that the court has been asked to do is to block the redrawing of Alabama’s congressional map. When the court struck the map down, the lower court struck it down on January 24th, it gave the state 14 days to come up with a new map. And if the state doesn’t, then special masters will draw the map. So that has been fully briefed. Now we are expecting a decision from the Supreme Court any day now, but you know that will be a big signal of what the Supreme Court wants to do on the Voting Rights Act, whether they think that there’s something there. If the Voting Rights Act doesn’t apply to Alabama, Black voters in Alabama with all of the discrimination in the state, you know, all of the barriers that Black voters face in Alabama, it doesn’t really apply anywhere, right? That’s the reality. So if the Supreme Court takes this case, I think it will be a big signal that the Supreme Court wants to carve back further on the Voting Rights Act. And we should know soon whether that’s a danger or not.


Gideon Resnick: Right. According to the 2020 Census, the white population has shrunk over the past decade as minority communities have swelled. The huge growth of Black and Latino populations really is not reflected in any of the new maps that we’ve seen so far. To go back to the comment that you had about Alabama, Black Alabamians represent more than a quarter of the state’s population. They only control about 14% of the state’s congressional delegation. So can you talk a little bit more in depth about how that is going to disenfranchise minority voters?


Michael Li: People of color provided almost all of the country’s population growth last decade and that’s both in slow-growing states, and especially in fast-growing states like Texas, where people of color were 95% of the state’s population growth. And really, what you’re seeing in states like Texas and Georgia and North Carolina is that lawmakers are not creating any new opportunities for communities of color at all, and instead, in many cases, they’re going backwards. You know, in Texas, they actively dismantled several, you know, naturally emerging coalition districts in the suburbs of places like Houston and Dallas that are very diverse and where communities of color ware seeing that they were just on the edge of breaking through and winning power. People said, You know what, we’re going to take that away from you and we’re going to carve you up. And then added a bunch of rural white voters, and we’re going to secure our power for another decade and that is really what is happening. The good news is that, you know, at least in states where you have commissions, you know, they seem to be doing a much better job. So California, the commission, you know, drew more Latino opportunity seats, more Asian opportunity seats because they sort of like drew maps that sort of reflect the demographic changes that are occurring in California. You know, that’s night and day from a state like Texas.


Gideon Resnick: Right. I want to switch gears for a second here. So according to new data that was published by the Cook Political Report, for the first time ever, Democrats are making pretty significant moves in redistricting and are making favorable moves, in fact, in states like New York and Pennsylvania. In reference to New York’s new map, which is certainly interesting, you said quote, “it’s a masterclass in how to draw an effective gerrymander.” So what do you make of all of this?


Michael Li: Well, Democrats certainly have been more aggressive this cycle, although I think, you know, in fairness, more of the credit for like the cycle not ended up to be a total disaster has to do with independent commissions and the fact that courts are drawing maps in states like Virginia, which are very fair. But, you know, Democrats certainly are aggressive in gerrymandering. They sometimes do it sloppily. You know, I think many people have said the map in Illinois, for example, is so aggressive that you know, it could backfire on Democrats. You know, it wouldn’t take much of a good Republican year for Democratic seats to flip because they’re so thinly democratic. And in order to get as many seats, Democrats sort of like spread their voters out really thin. New York seems a little bit more artfully and strategically drawn. There’s still some vulnerability there. The parties this cycle really had two different redistricting strategies. You know, Republicans have drawn these fortress-type districts in Texas. The number of districts that Donald Trump won by 15 or more points goes from 11 to 21 under the new map, so almost doubles. So Republicans only have 24 seats in Texas, so 88% of the seats, Republican seats in Texas are super Trump districts, right? Democrats didn’t do anything like that in New York. You know, they’re a bunch of districts that are like Biden plus six or Biden plus seven, which is a pretty good democratic district. But you know, I think really what is happening this cycle, Democrats will be aggressive in part because they only control the drawing of 75 seats, compared to 187 for Republicans. But also, Democrats seem to feel a little bit more confident that their coalition of recent years will hold together, that coalition of people of color, young voters, women, suburban voters, will hold together enough that you know, these maps, you know, they can spread their voters out a little bit more and try to gain more seats. Republicans have been a little bit more scared of doing that because, you know, there’s a lot of Republican bravado: we’re going to win back the suburbs, we’re going to win Latino voters. But they didn’t draw maps like that, right? They drew maps like they’re scared of the future.


Gideon Resnick: Is your sense that that is sort of a new norm that we are embarking on to here where Democrats have to be, where they can, a little bit more aggressive in how they’re going about this business just given, you know, the precedent that Republicans have set in a lot of places.


Michael Li: The politics are a little bit different and Democrats recognize that they have to play hardball. People are rethinking what politics look like and recognizing that it is really very much a locality-based sort of assessment, and that has opened up new pathways to gaining additional democratic opportunities.


Gideon Resnick: I want to close with this: gerrymandering is a form of voter suppression, one of many that exists in the U.S. So how does all of this differ from the restrictive voting laws that states passed in 2021? Or how is that going to even potentially work in concert for the broader project of voter suppression?


Michael Li: Well, I think they’re really cousins. Voter suppression try to sort of make it harder to vote, but nonetheless, you know, they’re designed to suppress the vote enough, and that can make a difference. I mean, there’s a lot of debate nationally like, well, this won’t suppress like millions of votes. But you know, at the same time, Donald Trump is not president of the United States because of 44,000 voters in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, right? I mean, it doesn’t take a whole lot to have like a really big effect. And certainly, these laws can have that big effect and particularly for communities of color who we know sort of disadvantaged by them. But you know, gerrymandering on the other hand, is sort of like a a nuclear bomb, right, even if you run over those hurdles, even if you surmount all of them, you still are, you know, at a disadvantage because the results have been sort of baked into the system. And Texas is a prime example: 21 of 24 Republican districts in Texas are Trump plus 15, right? It’s going to take a lot to overcome that. A lot of demographic change, a lot of political shift—which is not to say it can’t happen, but you know, like they’ve built themselves a pretty good insurance policy. And, you know, like for a state that is as dynamic and fast-growing as Texas, as young, I mean, Texas is the second youngest state in the country, like you just don’t actually see any opportunities in Texas. So Texas goes from being one of the most interesting states electorally in terms of U.S. House elections to one of the least, and that’s the effect of gerrymandering.


Josie Duffy Rice: We will, of course, be all over this story, but that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: On Wednesday of last week. Twenty two year old Amir Locke was killed by Minneapolis police after they entered his apartment during a no-knock raid. Members of the Minneapolis Police Department’s SWAT team entered the apartment where Locke was staying around 7 a.m. Though the police’s initial statement was inconsistent with the body camera footage, this much is clear: police did not announce themselves until after they had clearly entered the premises. They then approached Locke and kicked the couch where he was sleeping. Though police claim that Locke pointed a gun at them, that is unclear from the body camera footage, which only shows Locke holding a gun that, according to his family and attorney, he legally owned. Locke’s death comes almost two years after police in Louisville, Kentucky, shot and killed Breonna Taylor after waking her during a no-knock raid in March of 2020. It is also more blood on the hands of Minneapolis police officers, four of whom were responsible for the death of George Floyd. Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of Minneapolis, demanding accountability in the killing of Locke. And on Friday, Mayor Jacob Frey implemented a moratorium on no-knock warrants quote, “until a new policy is crafted,” stating that quote, “no matter what information comes to light, it won’t change the fact that a Amir Locke’s life was cut short.”


Josie Duffy Rice: Was cut short. That’s one way of putting it.


Gideon Resnick: Yep.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s a big day for diplomacy, with some of the most important players in the Ukrainian crisis set to meet and discuss how they can prevent a Russian invasion. President Biden will meet at the White House with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who some have criticized for failing to take a strong position alongside his NATO allies in this crucial moment. On the other side of the ocean, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is set to meet in Moscow with French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron has positioned himself as the diplomatic center of this crisis between an aggressive U.S. and a noncommittal Germany, and will seek to stop a Russian offensive and discuss Putin’s grievances resulting from NATO expansion. Macron will also meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev, who expressed over the weekend that he felt a diplomatic solution was more likely than a war. And as far as what’s happening on the ground, U.S. intelligence estimates that Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops and equipment on the border of Ukraine. Intelligence reports over the weekend said Russia could invade Ukraine within days, but for what it’s worth, Russian officials have dismissed those reports.


Gideon Resnick: Ooh! The Olympics is known for its five rings, but its rating on Yelp is closer to two and a half stars—yes, everyone, I went there. Several athletes at the Beijing Olympics have taken to social media to call out the poor living conditions for athletes in isolation, prompting sharp criticism of the International Olympic Committee, or IOC. Per China’s policy, everyone in the Olympic bubble must take a PCR test daily, and those who test positive must isolate in a quarantine hotel until they are cleared for release. Athletes holed up in these hotels described cramped rooms, inedible meals, and little to no access to the internet or training equipment. An American bobsledder said that she only had a single weight plate to use, which actually got me thinking a little bit: too rusted dumbbells covered in spider webs in my garage could be my ticket to the Olympics.


Josie Duffy Rice: I will be cheering you on the whole time.


Gideon Resnick: Thank you very much. As soon as I get the spider webs off, we are good to go. Over 300 people have tested positive for COVID at the Games so far, including athletes and other team officials. Christian Dubi, the IOC’s executive director, promised that the organization would do better and said that quote, “the issue has been addressed.” The Beijing organizing committee also said yesterday that athletes in isolation will now be able to order food to be delivered to them, but it’s unclear what they have done to address the other concerns. Tough.


Josie Duffy Rice: Very tough. Good news for fans of tiny little bottles: Southwest Airlines announced that it would resume serving alcohol on its flights later this month. The airline took alcoholic beverages off their menu two years ago when the pandemic started, but is now joining Delta and United in resuming the service. The decision has drawn heavy criticism from TWU Local 556, the union representing the airlines’. Flight attendants Lyn Montgomery, the union’s president, released a statement saying quote, “Resuming the sales of alcohol while the mask mandate is in place has the great potential to increase customer noncompliance and misconduct issues.” Montgomery is, of course, referring to the uptick in violence toward flight attendants over the course of the pandemic, primarily driven by enforcement of mask mandates. Southwest’s new policy goes into effect on February 18. We won’t tell you what to do, but if you choose to order, ask yourself one question first: will drinking this Bloody Mary end in me being forcibly duct taped to my seat.


Gideon Resnick: For too many people, the answer might be yes. And if it is for you, please reconsider your life choices.


Josie Duffy Rice: Or don’t drink a Bloody Mary, you know? Maybe something else. Like a water maybe?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, a water would be fine. You have a long flight ahead. You can get dehydrated on it easily. Please don’t make any more trouble for people that are working for you. It’s enough. That’s all I have to say. Those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, cancel your reservation at the Olympic quarantine hotel, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you aren’t reading, and not just the tiny labels on tiny bottles of alcohol like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And join me in competing at the next Olympics.


Josie Duffy Rice: I will be there.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: Very into luge these days, you know?


Gideon Resnick: Luge is tight and scary.


Josie Duffy Rice: Luge is tight and terrifying.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s a little too fast for my taste. What A day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, with writing support from Jocey Coffman, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.