The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments today in the lawsuit concerning the new election districts. There is much with which to sympathize in the petitions filed by both sides in the dispute. Some of the new boundaries are odd, but it was extremely difficult to avoid such oddities. One thing is clear — much of the dispute could have been avoided if Alaska were not subject to the Voting Rights Act, the federal law intended to prevent states from institutionalizing racial discrimination in their election procedures. The petitions before the court today are filled with arguments about whether the Voting Rights Act forced the Alaska Redistricting Board to draw the election boundaries in the fashion it did or, if not, then in some even less rational fashion.
The Alaska Constitution has simple, broad language to guide the construction of election districts. They are to be “formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area.” In a perfect world, that would frame the subject matter for the inevitable court cases about the results of redistricting.
The world is far from perfect. So the Supreme Court today faces not only the arguments about whether the new districts are constitutional but also whether any deviations from constitutionality are justified by the Voting Rights Act. The dance between the Alaska Constitution and the federal law is absolutely mind-boggling. Equally mind-boggling is the fact that this federal law applies to Alaska in the first place.