New Mexico Supreme Court hears GOP challenge to congressional card

Jan. 8 (Reuters) – After several months of delay, the state Supreme Court will hear a case this week challenging New Mexico’s new congressional maps.

The hearing, scheduled for Monday, comes about three months after the state’s highest court ordered a stay of proceedings in a lawsuit brought by the New Mexico Republican Party alleging that the redistributed maps of the state’s three congressional districts are a political one Gerrymander.

Arguments Monday will focus on whether claims of partisan gerrymandering can be decided by state courts or whether, as Democratic defendants claim, congressional tickets are a political matter falling within the purview of the Legislature. If the state Supreme Court sides with the Democrats, the case could be closed. If the judges side with the Republicans, the case would go back to the circuit court level, where it started early last year.

In the long run, the stakes could be high for both major political parties. A victory for the GOP on Monday would send the case back to the district court with the possibility that the Legislature would be directed to return to the state Capitol and redraw the maps of Congress if plaintiffs win across the board, the attorney for the state said GOP. Carter B Harrison IV

“[The] The Supreme Court will either say that a partial action cannot be brought at all (i.e. no one can bring a claim, not just that we have failed in our burden) or will say that a claim can be made and will outline some of those the standards for what constitutes court-correctable partisan manipulation,” Harrison wrote in an email.

Monday’s hearing — which could be decided as early as the same day — is the latest chapter in a still-developing story about the often-controversial process of redrawing the maps for the seats of the state legislature and Congress every 10 years after the census.

When New Mexico lawmakers met in special session in late 2021 to draw new maps, many said lawsuits would follow no matter how the maps turned out.

You were right.

Shortly after the new maps were approved by the heavily Democratic Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state’s Republican Party and six other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to keep the new congressional map from going forward. The legal complaint said lawmakers “ruthlessly treated” traditional methods of redistribution to give Democrats an advantage.

In the previous map, Republican voters in southeastern New Mexico were largely grouped into a single congressional district, creating one district that typically elected a Republican and two that typically elected a Democrat. Now, plaintiffs say, those voters are split between all three of the state’s congressional districts, which dilutes their voting rights.

Some critics say these redrawn maps played a role in the November defeat of former US Rep. Yvette Herrell in the state’s 2nd congressional district, who left New Mexico with an all-Democrat congressional delegation.

The lawsuit names Lujan Grisham, Lt. gov. Howie Morales, Senate Speaker Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, as defendants. (Egolf did not run for re-election and will give up his seat in the House of Representatives and his role as Speaker later this month.)

First, Lujan Grisham’s attorneys and Democratic lawmakers asked 9th District Judge Fred T. Van Soelen to drop the case. Last April, Van Soelen ruled the case could go ahead but said he would not make a final decision before 2023 because of the short time left to produce a new map before the 2022 primary in June and the general election in November. In July, the Democrats’ defendants asked the state Supreme Court to stay the case and rule on whether the issue of gerrymandering could go before a court under the state constitution.

Steve Pearce, leader of the New Mexico Republican Party, wrote in an email last week that his organization is confident the New Mexico Supreme Court will rule that the Legislature’s maps “were a flagrant case of partisan manipulation.”

“The new borders were purely for political gain and to ensure Republicans could not win certain races,” he wrote. “This was a blatant case of partisanship and destined to halt GOP momentum last November. This illegal gerrymandering certainly played a role in the Republican backlash in the past election. We look forward to the court making a just and fair decision.”

Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, said if the court agrees with Pearce, the legislature will likely convene a special session to redistribute districts as before. He said if lawmakers ignore or delay the court’s order, the court could appoint an independent chart maker to draw the charts for the state.

New Mexico isn’t the only state dealing with a district change lawsuit. According to the Brennan Center’s website, as of Dec. 21, “73 cases have been filed challenging congressional and legislative cards in 27 states as racially discriminatory and/or partisan gerrymander, of which 48 are pending either in court or on appeal. “

The center reported that litigation has resulted in court orders to redraw maps from legislatures and/or congresses in several states, including Alaska, New York and Ohio.

Li said that nationally, there are “pretty equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans filing lawsuits to hand out cards.”

The New Mexico case is playing out as the US Supreme Court is expected to rule on a similar case in North Carolina later this year. There, the state Supreme Court said that the legislature’s map redistributing congressional districts amounted to partisan manipulation on the part of Republicans.

The court asked lawmakers to redraw the maps. Instead, some Republican lawmakers from North Carolina appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to rule on whether the state Supreme Court has the authority to make such redistribution decisions. North Carolina Republicans argue no, invoking the “independent state legislature” theory, which holds that state legislatures have sole authority over the conduct of federal elections in their states, which is not determined by state courts or constitutions or others State powers can be restricted. The court is expected to review the case again in the summer.

Li said the decision could affect every state in the country when it comes to district redistribution. Ultimately, he said, it’s possible for Congress to “come in and dictate how you draw districts.”

Li said he was not surprised by the number of district redistribution court cases that have cropped up across the country.

“In America we make cards and argue about it in court,” he said, laughing.