Dems file suit to thwart state redistricting plan
DENVER – Three Denver Democrats have filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that the congressional redistricting plan approved in the Legislature in the last three days of the session is unconstitutional.
The suit, filed in Denver District Court, doesn’t come as a surprise. Democrats have been threatening to take the issue to court since they heard that Republican legislators planned to introduce a bill to redraw federal congressional district lines drawn by a judge last year.
Usually, the Legislature redraws those lines every 10 years after the census. The Colorado Legislature, however, was unable to agree on new boundaries, so a judge drew them instead.
Sen. Doug Lamborn, R-
Colorado Springs, introduced Senate Bill 352 May 5 – three days before the session ended – to realign those districts.
Democratic legislators cried foul. They want the Supreme Court to affirm that the map the judge drew is the legally valid and binding plan and that the general assembly had no power, duty or obligation to adopt legislation to change it.
Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, said he will not defend the state in lawsuits filed protesting the new boundaries.
The lawsuit outlines many of the same things Democrats alleged during the last three, emotional days of the session. They said the redistricting process undertaken last week denied people equal protection rights under the First Amendment provisions in the state constitution and violated the state’s “Give a Vote to Every Legislator” article, the Open Meetings Law and numerous legislative rules and regulations.
The suit says that although the Legislature is required to draw up the congressional lines, if it is unable to do so, the courts “have the primary duty and responsibility” to do so.
Republican legislators have repeatedly said the Legislature – and only the Legislature – is responsible for drawing district boundaries.
The state implemented the judge’s plan before the 2002 November election. That plan created seven districts, two of which had a majority of Democrats, three of which had a majority of Republicans and two of which had a mixture of both major parties and unaffiliated voters. The judge ordered future elections to be held with those boundaries in mind.
U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Republican, then filed a civil suit contending that the court’s map diluted minority voting strength and failed to preserve the Western Slope “community of interest,” two criteria for drawing new maps.
The state Supreme Court affirmed the judge’s map in March, and congressional elections took place in November. Beauprez won his 7th District seat by a scant 121 votes.
The Democrats’ suit alleges the new map violates principles Beauprez pointed out in his challenge to the district court’s map.
According to the suit, the new map dilutes minority voting strength in the 7th District by adding some 27,000 Republicans to Beauprez’s district and decreasing the proportion of Hispanic voters there from 20 percent to 14 percent in the process.
“In a competitive district, a minority such as Hispanics have the power to potentially determine the outcome of an election,” the suit reads, “and where they have a tendency to vote for candidates of a particular political party, the implementation of a (new) map diluting their voting strength is unconstitutional.”
Additionally, Democrats say the process the bill took through the Legislature was unconstitutional. Typically, a bill filed in the Senate is assigned to a committee, which schedules a hearing for the bill. At that point, politicians, lobbyists and citizens have a chance to review the bill, schedule testimony and prepare amendments before the committee hearing.
If the bill has fiscal ramifications, it goes to an appropriations committee, then to the floor for debate. Legislators must then wait at least one
day before hearing the bill on third reading. The process is
repeated in the House.
SB 352 was introduced May 5 and assigned to the Senate’s State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee – a committee comprised of four Republicans and three Democrats. They approved the bill on a party-line vote (all Republicans voting one way and all Democrats voting another) that afternoon.
“The public, legislators and lobbyists did not have a chance to review the bill or schedule testimony before these committee hearings,” the suit says. “There was insufficient time for senators to prepare amendments, and those that did were not able to debate them – or in some cases, even propose them.”
House Representatives heard the bill in the House’s State Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday, May 6. The public again was unable to offer input at that time. The bill was approved 7-3-1 on a party-line vote with three legislators excused from voting.
Additionally, the suit claims, Republican senators suspended Senate rules that require the reading of bills and the requirement to provide enough notice of the day’s agenda.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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