July 6, 2023

Gerrymandering case will move forward

Andy Lyman

The New Mexico Supreme Court

The New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the redistricting case alleging gerrymandering during the 2021 redistricting process proceed in district court.

The Court gave the Fifth Judicial District Court in Lea County until Oct. 1 to resolve the case about how New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district was redistricted following the 2020 Census.

At issue was that the district, which had previously only included the southern half of the state which tends to lead conservative, now includes part of Albuquerque which tends to lean liberal, which those opposing the redistricting say diluted the Republican’s votes.

All three of New Mexico’s congressional districts are held by Democrats, a feat that has only happened two other times since the 1980s.

The Supreme Court advised the District Court that a partisan gerrymandering claim is actionable in a court of law and it is subject to the three-part test stated in the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent in the Rucho v. Common Cause case from 2019.

In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims were not issues for a federal court, as they were political questions rather than legal ones.

The test’s three parts establish that courts hearing redistricting cases examine a redistricting plan’s intent, effects and causation.

More: No decision yet after NM Supreme Court hears redistricting case oral arguments

“Clearly, a district drawn without taking partisan interests into account would not present a partisan gerrymander,” the state Supreme Court order states. “However, as with partisan gerrymandering under the Fourteenth Amendment, some degree of partisan gerrymandering is permissible under Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution… At this stage in the proceedings, it is unnecessary to determine the precise degree that is permissible so long as the degree is not egregious in intent and effect.”

The state Supreme Court advised the Fifth Judicial District Court to “consider and address evidence comparing the relevant congressional district’s voter registration percentage/data, regarding the individual plaintiffs’ party affiliation under the challenged congressional maps, as well as the same source of data under the prior maps.”

The state Republican Party and others filed the case against the State of New Mexico. The case went to the state Supreme Court when Judge Fred Van Soelen filed a writ of superintending control, which the state Supreme Court approved.

A writ of superintending control is “issued to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice by correcting the erroneous ruling of a lower court that is acting within its jurisdiction but is making mistakes of law or is acting in willful disregard of the law. The writ is issued when there is no appeal or when an appeal cannot provide adequate relief,” according to the University of New Mexico Judicial Education Center.

The Republican Party of New Mexico claims the redistricting plan for the 2nd Congressional District diluted the Party’s votes in the district. 

The state Supreme Court approved the writ which means the case goes back to district court which has until Oct. 1 to resolve the case.