Our weekly federal news digest highlights redistricting updates in Hawaii, New York and Pennsylvania, and the FDA approving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the Federal Tap.
All good things come to an end. Ballotpedia will retire the Federal Tap after the February 19 issue. Don’t worry, Ballotpedia won’t leave you in the dark! Discover our newsletter collection designed to keep you informed, whatever your interests!
Congress is in session
The House and Senate are in session next week. Click here to see the complete schedule for the second session of the 117th Congress.
Forty-eight members of Congress – six members of the US Senate and 42 members of the US House – have announced they will not run again. Among these, thirty-three members, six senators and 27 representatives, have announced their retirement. Five Senate incumbents are Republicans and one is a Democrat, and of the House incumbents, 21 are Democrats and six are Republicans.
SCOTUS is offline.
The Supreme Court will not hear argument next week. To learn more about the 2021-2022 mandate, click here.
Where was the president last week?
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Biden remained in Washington DC
Biden traveled to New York on Thursday, where he met with New York City Mayor Eric Andrews (D) and Governor Kathy Hochul (D)
On Friday, Biden traveled to Wilmington, Delaware
- 78 vacancies in the federal judiciary
- 29 pending nominations
- 38 future vacancies in the federal judiciary
Upcoming Article III Judicial Vacancies
According to the latest U.S. court vacancies data, a total of 38 vacancies have been advertised for Article III judgeships. The first vacancy announcement came on January 22, 2021, when Judge Ellen Hollander of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland announced that she would assume the senior status upon confirmation of her successor. The most recent was on January 12, 2022, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would step down from the court following the end of SCOTUS’ current term. Twenty-three vacation effective dates have not been determined because the judge has not announced when they will leave the seat. The next vacancy to come will be on February 14, 2022, when U.S. District Court Judge for the Central District of California Virginia Phillips retires.
For historical comparison, on February 6, 2021, there were 60 federal judicial vacancies and 18 upcoming federal judicial vacancies reported by US courts.
SCOTUS Releases March Dispute Schedule
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released its March oral argument schedule for the 2021-2022 term on January 28, slated for nine cases to be argued. Two of the cases were consolidated for one hour of oral argument. In total, the court will hear eight hours of oral arguments between March 21 and March 30.
Click on the links below to learn more about the cases:
- Morgan v. Sundance, Inc. concerns a circuit split regarding arbitration clauses, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), and the Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC vs. Concepcion (2011).
- Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP wonders if North Carolina lawmakers can step in to defend the state’s voter ID law in constitutional challenges and lawsuits over the Voting Rights Act.
- Golan vs Saada concerns the interpretation of international law when a minor child is abducted across national borders during a domestic dispute.
- ZF Automotive US, Inc. v. Luxshare, Ltd. (consolidated with AlixPartners, LLC c. Fund for the Protection of the Rights of Investors in Foreign States) concerns arbitration proceedings generally and, in particular, the power of United States district courts to compel parties to produce evidence in private arbitration in foreign or international courts.
To date, the tribunal has agreed to hear 65 cases during its 2021-2022 tenure. Four cases were dismissed and one case was removed from the pleading schedule. Nine cases have not yet been scheduled for litigation.
Food and Drug Administration approves Moderna coronavirus vaccine, receives clearance requests from Pfizer, Novavax
On Feb. 1, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine full approval for use in people 18 and older. This is the second vaccine to receive approval for this age group, the first being from Pfizer on August 23, 2021. Moderna’s vaccine originally received emergency use authorization on December 18, 2020 .
Additionally, on January 31, the FDA received emergency use authorization requests from Pfizer and Novavax. Pfizer has applied for permission to use its coronavirus vaccine for children under 5. The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine to receive FDA clearance for use in people under the age of 18. The FDA said it would meet to make a recommendation on Feb. 15. For the authorization to become effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would also have to meet and authorize the use of the vaccine for this age group.
Novavax has submitted an emergency use authorization request for its coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years of age and older. If approved, it would become the fourth vaccine available for American adults. The last time the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for a new vaccine was in Feb. 2021, when it licensed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Hawaii and New York Adopt New Maps of Congressional Districts; Pennsylvania Supreme Court takes control of redistricting
The Hawaii Office of Elections officially released the state’s final congressional redistricting plan on January 31 after the Hawaii Redistribution Commission voted 8 to 1 on January 28 to approve the proposal.
Two congressional district maps were presented to the commission at their September 9, 2021 meeting. One map retained the congressional lines as drawn following the 2010 census. An alternate map slightly adjusted the lines along the west coast of Oahu. On October 14, the committee voted to adopt the alternative proposal. After hearing public testimony, the commission drafted a final proposal on January 26.
Commissioner Cal Chipchase said the proposals respond to public comment and comply with state laws. “I am satisfied that the technical committee and this commission considered all of the constitutional criteria, as attainable, rather than favoring one or ignoring one condition,” Chipchase said. Bill Hicks, a Hawaiian citizen who submitted proposals to the commission, criticized the commission’s approach to the new maps. “It’s best to build compliant House districts first and use them as the building blocks not just for Senate districts, but for Congressional districts as well. Build congressional districts last, not first,” Hicks said.
Hawaii was awarded two seats in the United States House of Representatives after the 2020 census, the same number it received after the 2010 census. This map will go into effect for the Hawaii congressional elections in 2022.
New York enacted a new congressional redistricting plan on Feb. 2 after Governor Kathy Hochul (D) signed a measure approved by the legislature. According to NBC 4 New York’s Marina Villeneuve, the Congressional map would give the Democratic Party “an advantage in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts and mean re-election issues for several Republican members of the United States House.” After the 2020 census, New York was allocated 26 seats in the United States House of Representatives, a loss of one seat from the distribution after the 2010 census.
On January 3, the New York Independent Redistricting Commission voted 5-5 on two legislative redistricting proposals, one proposed by the Democrats on the commission and the other proposed by the Republicans on the commission. The New York Legislature, which was unable to amend the proposals, rejected both cards on January 10. The commission then had 15 days to draw new maps but announced on January 24 that it would not submit any new proposals. Since the commission did not submit a revised map until January 25, the legislature was allowed to modify or create new redistricting proposals.
New York voters approved a state constitutional amendment — Proposition 1 — in 2014 that created a redistricting commission to draw legislative and congressional districts. After the committee voted 5-5, The Buffalo News The Editorial Board wrote: “This result was built into the system created by a 2014 Constitutional Amendment. With both parties chasing an advantage, the failure of Republicans and Democrats to agree was inevitable. Balanced is not synonymous with independent.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Feb. 2 that it would exercise oversight over the process for selecting the state’s new congressional map. In a 5-2 decision, the court named Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough (R) as special master and ordered her to recommend a new Congressional map by February 7. McCullough was initially given redistricting responsibility after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoed a map approved by lawmakers. Candidates running for U.S. House districts in Pennsylvania can begin collecting signatures Feb. 15.
The court order stated that “in view of the deadlock between the legislative and executive branches regarding the passage of congressional precincts, and in view of the impact that extended appeals will have on the election calendar, and the weather being of the essence, Petitioners’ Urgent Request for Extraordinary relief is GRANTED and extraordinary jurisdiction under 42 Pa.CS § 726 IS EXERCISED.
Five state Supreme Court justices were elected in partisan elections as Democrats and two were elected as Republicans. Pennsylvania currently has a divided government with a Democratic governor and Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature. Pennsylvania was awarded 17 seats in the United States House of Representatives, a net loss of one seat from the distribution after the 2010 census.
The redistricting of Congress has been completed for 299 of the 435 seats (68.7%) in the US House of Representatives.