Court rejects Legislature map

The Colorado Supreme Court rejected proposed reapportionment maps for the Colorado Legislature on Tuesday, saying they don’t take county boundaries into enough consideration to meet constitutional requirements.

The maps were the product of months of work by the 11-member Colorado Reapportionment Commission, which generated much criticism from opponents who said some of the House and Senate lines it drew unnecessarily split some counties.

In a 4-2 decision, the court said that while it was admirable that some lines were drawn to benefit minority populations in some counties, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of others. Newly appointed Justice Brian Boatright did not participate.

“The commission appropriately considered these demographics, particularly the growth in the Latino population across the state, as part of its overall approach to drawing districts,” the court wrote in its majority decision. “However, the commission’s reliance on the need to comply with the Voting Rights Act to justify dividing Arapahoe and Jefferson counties cannot trump section 47(2)” of the Constitution.

That section deals with how counties can be split.

Chief Justice Michael Bender and Justice Nancy Rice dissented, saying the county splits weren’t all that egregious.

The two said the main point of the commission is to ensure fair lines, noting the House map was approved on an 8-3 vote by the commission, which was made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and an unaffiliated chairman. The Senate map was approved on a 9-2 vote.

“This plan is consistent with the aim of our reapportionment process to prevent gerrymandering and to provide political fairness among the state’s legislative districts,” Bender wrote in the minority opinion. “(The high court) majority’s rejection of the adopted plan eliminates the very discretion necessary for the commission to do its job under the federal and Colorado constitutional mandates.”

By law, the commission has strict criteria it must follow, and in order. It starts with creating districts of nearly even populations and then following the federal Voting Rights Act, which primarily centers on not discriminating against minorities. Other criteria include compactness of districts, keeping communities of interest together and not unnecessarily splitting cities or counties.

Numerous counties and various other groups objected to specific parts of the maps, primarily to complain that some lines split counties for reasons other than that criteria, chiefly to create as many politically competitive districts as possible.

Western Slope advocacy group Club 20 and several counties in southwest Colorado were among those objectors, complaining that San Miguel County was split just to make House District 59 more competitive.

Former state Rep. Gayle Berry, R-Grand Junction and a member of the reapportionment commission, said the panel is expected to meet within the next seven days to discuss the court ruling and determine how to proceed.

She said the commission likely will meet at least twice in an effort to address the concerns of the court, which gave the panel until Dec. 6 to alter the map and resubmit it to the court.


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