New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District: a Democratic-controlled trial over gerrymandering in the state’s congressional map
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A three-day trial in New Mexico over the state’s congressional map begins Wednesday. It’s not like other parts of the country with active fights over districts, it’s the state’s Democratic lawmakers who are accused of making illegal boundaries.
In the state of New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, a win by a Democrat over a Republican was the difference between victory and defeat. The likely re-enactment of that race between the two in the 20th century comes just before a trial challenging the map used.
The entire southern part of New Mexico used to be encompassed by the 2nd District. It was redrawn to exclude part of the state’s eastern border with Texas — a conservative-leaning area — and add a heavily Hispanic and Democratic part of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city.
Attorney for the plaintiffs Daniel Gallegos argued in that hearing that the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s actions amounted to a “constitutional harm” to GOP voters by violating the state’s Equal Protection Clause.
The lawsuit was being pushed back by the Democrats due to the fact that it is harder for Republicans to win in the district.
The justices have also ordered the lower court to use a three-part test in assessing the GOP’s gerrymandering claims. The test was first laid out by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in her dissenting opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause, a notable case on partisan gerrymandering. It asks whether lawmakers intentionally tried to dilute the votes of their opponents, whether they succeeded and whether they have any nonpartisan justifications for where they drew the lines.
The evidence the court will use to determine lawmakers’ intent has already been a point of argument. The plaintiffs subpoenaed numerous current and former state legislators for depositions on the matter, according to court documents. But Democratic defendants filed for a protective order in August, asserting that the state constitution affords lawmakers legislative privilege, protecting them from testifying about the legislative process.
“There must be limited ways in which a legislator’s intent can be admitted to help in deciding cases before the courts,” he wrote in a letter to both parties.
The judge said that lawmakers can’t be summoned to testify about their deliberations. However, any statements made to individuals not directly involved in the legislative process before the map was enacted will be allowed. This could include statements made to the public, advocacy groups, journalists or even members of the state’s congressional delegation. Van Soelen added that the map itself and its effect will be the court’s primary means for gauging Democratic lawmakers’ intent behind where they drew the lines.
The panel’s ruling is the latest twist in a redistricting lawsuit that may end up before the Supreme Court again. The case was appealed to the country’s highest court. The court allowed the map struck down by Dick to be used in last year’s midterm elections while the justices reviewed both the Louisiana case and a similar congressional redistricting case out of Alabama.
The case is part of a number of attempts by Republican state officials in the South to rewrite how federal courts interpret the Voting Rights Act, which could affect the balance of power in the next Congress.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to cancel a lower court’s hearing for selecting a new redistricting plan that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick had scheduled to start on Oct. 3.
The Louisiana case for a redistricting map in the United States House of Representatives and an upper court injunction against the map
Democrats could take back control of the US House if they were able to win the districts in Louisiana which are dominated by black voters.
The Louisiana case is going back to the lower courts for review in June, just in time for the congressional elections in Louisiana.
A separate panel of 5th circuit judges will hear arguments about whether the preliminary injunction ruling against the map was made correctly.