The bench trial in the gerrymandering case concerning the state’s congressional map is set to begin Wednesday in Lovington.
The case alleges gerrymandering occurred during the 2021 redistricting that happened following the 2020 Census when the 2nd Congressional District changed to include part of Albuquerque, which tends to vote Democratic.
The district traditionally covers the southern half of New Mexico which tends to vote Republican.
On Friday, the state Supreme Court issued an opinion outlining guidance for the bench trial.
A bench trial means there will be no jury and the decision will be made by the judge, in this case Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Fred T. van Soelen.
The Court directed Ninth Judicial District Court to use the three-part gerrymandering test outlined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in the dissent of a case that determined that “federal courts are not empowered to resolve partisan gerrymandering claims,” a press release about the state Supreme Court opinion stated.
The Kagan test asks courts to examine a redistricting plan’s intent, effects and causation.
The state Supreme Court has determined that some amount of partisan gerrymandering is permissible, however, it did not determine what that exact amount of partisan gerrymandering was considered egregious since the case before the court was to determine if state courts could decide on questions about partisan gerrymandering.
“Our duty to vindicate individual rights outweighs any prudential concern that the minimum degree of constitutional harm under an egregious partisan gerrymander is difficult to specify,” the Court wrote in its Sept. 22 opinion.
Republicans have questioned the map for the 2nd Congressional District since its inception in 2021 and is still questioned by then-Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican from Alamogordo who represented the district until this year, in her loss to Rep. Gabe Vasquez, a Democrat from Las Cruces.
Although both Herrell and Vasquez are from southern New Mexico, many in the 2nd Congressional District fear that one day all of the federal representatives will be from the northern part of the state and the south will have effectively lost its voice in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The two have both announced they will run for the seat in 2024 and are widely expected to have a rematch in the 2024 general election.