Political Gerrymandering: Guidance for Courts
Today, Common Cause New Mexico, Election Reformers Network, and the League of Women Voters of New Mexico joined with national redistricting experts in filing an amicus brief in New Mexico’s Fifth Judicial District in a case challenging the state’s congressional maps. Plaintiffs in Republican Party of New Mexico et al., v.Maggie Toulouse Oliver, et al., argue that the maps are a partisan gerrymander that violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause.
The amicus brief filed today by the watchdog groups and redistricting experts supports neither party but provides a detailed analysis of both the maps themselves, as well as the standard adopted by the New Mexico Supreme Court in July to determine when a partisan gerrymander is unconstitutional. That three-part test was adopted from a standard articulated in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent in Rucho v. Common Cause. Under that standard, plaintiffs must prove the gerrymander’s intent and its effects. If that is proven the state must then show “a legitimate, nonpartisan justification to save its map”.
“We are gratified that the district court is using the three-part test suggested by Justice Kagan in Ruchov. Common Cause,” said Mason Graham, Common Cause New Mexico Policy Director.“It’s a reasonable way to determine if there was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and if the will of the voters was diluted or overturned.”
The brief outlines the legal framework and evidence applicable at each step of the three-part test and addresses relevant data on the maps themselves. The New Mexico Supreme Court joins high courts in Alaska and Pennsylvania along with an appellate court in Maryland in determining that state constitutional rights to free elections and/or equal protection prohibit partisan gerrymandering.
Heather Balas, Vice President of Election Reformers Network says, “Courts using these types of metrics and standards creates an important step in the great effort to move the United States toward a new era of fair districting. Election Reformers Network is honored to play a part in that critical work and is proud to collaborate with this extraordinarily talented team.”
“The decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court to send this complaint back to a District Court for consideration was a victory for voters who believe the courts can – and must – protect voters’ constitutional rights by considering cases alleging partisan gerrymandering,” said Hannah Burling of The League of Women Voters of New Mexico. The League has no opinion on the merits of the complaint but does support the role of the courts in ruling on partisan gerrymandering.
Parties in the brief included Election Reformers Network, Professor Dr. Sam Wang (Electoral Innovation Lab), Paul Mitchell (Redistricting Partners LLC), Jonathan Cervas (Carnegie Mellon University) and Roderick Kennedy (retired judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals and co-chair of the New Mexico Redistricting Task Force), in addition to Common Cause New Mexico and League of Women Voters of New Mexico.