A judge upheld the congressional maps that Republicans alleged included illegal gerrymandering, particularly in the case of the state’s 2nd Congressional District.
Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Fred T. van Soelen issued his ruling on Friday that the alleged gerrymandering of the 2nd Congressional District 2021 were justiciable but the map in question was not unlawful.
Soelen’s ruling stated that the defendants in the case, state legislative Democrats and some state officials, main purpose in redrawing the 2nd Congressional District was “to entrench the Democratic Party in power by diluting the votes of citizens favoring Republicans.”
Soelen noted that “public statements made by the Defendants and other elected officials about their plans for redistricting and the outcomes they hoped to accomplish made contemporaneously during this legislative process was clear evidence of their intent to dilute the votes of the Plaintiffs as Republican voters in CD 2 in southeastern New Mexico.”
The Court found that the vote dilution did not rise to the level of an egregious gerrymander.
The Republican Party of New Mexico, the primary plaintiff in the case, issued a statement about the ruling Friday afternoon.
“Today’s decision was bigger than Republican or Democrat. It struck at the heart of our Republic, the form of government that allows all beliefs to have a voice,” Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce said in the statement. “Our legal team presented a clear case that the legislature intended to and, in fact, did egregiously gerrymander the congressional maps to shift the second district by 18 points in favor of Democrats.”
The Party plans to appeal Soelen’s decision.
State Senate Democrats released a statement about the ruling via X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Senate Democrats respect and appreciate Judge Van Soelen’s decision addressing issues of first impression in New Mexico, and the country Senate bill 1 created three competitive urban/rural congressional districts. We believe and continue to believe that competition in elections is healthy,” New Mexico Senate Democrats said.
The New Mexico Supreme Court’s three part-part gerrymandering test that was used to determine whether gerrymandering occurred in this case was based on US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissenting opinion in the 2019 Rucho v. Common Cause case.
The test’s three parts include examining if the redistricting plan’s intent was to entrench Democratic votes in the 2nd Congressional District, effects such as predicting if that party would be able to win future elections and causation.
Soelen found that the defendants did intend to entrench Democratic vote in the 2nd Congressional District, which they succeeded in doing by “substantially diluting their opponents’ votes,” he said in the ruling.
As to 2nd Congressional District election predictability, the New Mexico Republican Party did not “provide sufficient evidence that the defendants were successful in their attempt to entrench their party,” the ruling states.
Soelen found that the congressional redistricting map that was enacted in 2021 “does not violate plaintiff’s equal protection rights under… the New Mexico Constitution.”
The only election that has been held with the new map in place was the 2022 election when U. S. House of Rep. Gabe Vasquez. D-Las Cruces, won by less than one percent over then-incumbent Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo.
Both have announced their candidacy for what looks to be a rematch in 2024.The ruling comes after a two-day bench trial Sept. 27-28 in which Soelen had until Friday to issue his ruling.