In a 55-page opinion, the three-judge panel acknowledged that some of the lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission created districts that were larger or smaller in population than others. And they said the evidence shows that “partisanship played some role in the design of the map.” But the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution does not require that legislative districts have precisely equal population. Instead, the judge said, there can be “divergencies” that are necessary to achieve other goals. And in this case, they said, that the commission’s decision to manipulate the lines were “primarily a result of good-faith efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act” and its prohibitions against diluting minority voting strength, and not primarily to give Democrats a political leg up.
Tuesday’s ruling is a major setback for Republican interests who charged that the five-member commission purposely crafted the districts in a way to improve the chances of Democrats getting elected to the Legislature. Absent U.S. Supreme Court action, that likely leaves the current lines in place through the 2020 election.
But the three federal judges who wrote the unsigned ruling — Richard Clifton of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court Judges Roslyn Silver and Neil Wake — also told challengers they may have another legal option. They stressed that their ruling deals only with the question of whether districts of unequal population violates the U.S. Constitution.
They sidestepped questions of whether the commission violated provisions of the 2000 voter-approved law giving it the power to draw political lines. And one of those provisions requires districts of equal size. That, the federal judges said, needs to be decided in state court.
Full Article: Court upholds legislative district lines.