On August 15, 2016—before the United States ever had a President Trump—a new organization filed a three-page form with the IRS. Behind this political startup were two well-known names: Former Attorney General Eric Holder and then-President Barack Obama. 

At the time, Holder said the new group was focused on creating “fairer” legislative maps following the 2020 census.  

That statement was far from accurate. 

The newly-formed National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s (NDRC) actual mission was not remotely related to fairness. Instead, as the IRS filing shows, it aimed “[t]o build a comprehensive plan to favorably position Democrats for the redistricting process through 2022.”

Since then, the committee, which has received significant funding from public- and private-sector unions, has spent millions of dollars in this effort. 

Leveraging a four-pronged strategy of election victories, grassroots mobilization, so called “reform” measures, and litigation, the NDRC vies for Democratic control of redistricting—through means that are sometimes anything but democratic.   

It’s little wonder, then, that given their legislative flops they’d want to double down on finding success with the state’s partisan Supreme Court. The NDRC is now attempting to remove the Legislature entirely from the congressional redistricting process this year and have the courts take over.

It’s no accident that the NDRC targets only Republican majority states and leaves Democrats alone, including Maryland–home to one of the nation’s most gerrymandered districts.

It’s also no accident that Pennsylvania is among its prime targets. 

In early 2018, the NDRC supported the ruling by our state Supreme Court’s Democrat majority that overturned our existing congressional map and imposed a map drawn by a Stanford law professor that helped Democrats win three seats. Never mind that this ruling ignored our Legislature’s constitutional role in redistricting, the NDRC praised the court’s action as “fair” and a “major victory.” 

Later that same year, the NDRC spent more than $1.7 million on our legislative elections. The group credits itself with breaking the Republican supermajority in the state Senate and gaining 11 House seats. But Republican majorities held, even though they were numerically smaller.  

This legislative focus is important as the Legislature draws our congressional district maps. Proposed maps must pass both the House and Senate and then be approved by the governor. As the NDRC must have hoped, if they could gain control of the Legislature before redistricting, they could gain control of the process.

To their dismay, they failed on their second attempt to flip our state legislature last year. Instead, Democrats lost seats. It’s little wonder, then, that given their legislative flops they’d want to double down on finding success with the state’s partisan Supreme Court. The NDRC is now attempting to remove the Legislature entirely from the congressional redistricting process this year and have the courts take over.

On April 26, 2021—the same day the census data to be used for redistricting was released—NDRC filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court asking the courts to prepare to hijack the redistricting process and again impose a congressional map on Pennsylvanians. 

Notably, the lawsuit claims our existing map—which the NDRC praised in 2018—immediately became unconstitutional on April 26 given the new census data. As a result, 16 Pennsylvania voters, all of whom coincidentally “intend to advocate and vote for Democratic candidates” in 2022, have supposedly been “deprived of the right to cast an equal vote” in an election that hasn’t even happened yet. 

The suit further contends there is “no reasonable prospect that Pennsylvania’s political branches will reach consensus to enact a lawful congressional district plan in time to be used in the upcoming 2022 election.” Therefore, the court “should assume jurisdiction now.”

In other words, the NDRC claims divided government, often a safeguard of our representative democracy, is justification for judicial fiat. 

Imagine if every time the two parties failed to agree on a piece of legislation, we asked the court to draft the legislation and declare it law absent approval by either the Legislature or the governor. This is exactly what the NDRC wants when it comes to drawing our congressional maps—but only, of course, because the Supreme Court is in Democrat hands. 

In other words, the NDRC claims divided government, often a safeguard of our representative democracy, is justification for judicial fiat. 

Politics is the art of compromise. Or, at least, it should be. If anything, our divided government means both sides need to compromise on redistricting, rather than one party controlling the process. 

But this isn’t “fair” enough for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which wants pure Democrat control and is willing to use even the most undemocratic means to get there. 

Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.

2 thoughts on “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s attempt to upend Pa.’s redistricting process”

  1. I disagree with this statement: “ Proposed [congressional district] maps must pass both the House and Senate and then be approved by the governor.” My position is that under the US Constitution approval by the governor is not required. The Constitution gives the authority to the legislature alone.

    1. With all due respect to the author, this article is slanted so as to cause a reader to form a quite negative impression of the NDRC effort in Pennsylvania.
      However, and despite the author’s best efforts, the NDRC succeeded and the Pennsylvania SC forced equal redistricting for the 2018 Congressional election.

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