Battle over congressional districts under way

Members of a House panel Tuesday argued not over whether there should be criteria in setting new congressional district lines, but whether those criteria should be prioritized.

Under current law, if a proposed map outlining congressional lines ends up in court, judges are required to consider a strict order of factors before approving it.

Democrats said that priority was set by Republicans at a time when they controlled the Legislature in order to benefit Republicans.

“This language that we’re repealing really is gerrymandering,” said House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, who introduced House Bill 1408. “It is putting together an exclusive list in a priority order that had nothing to do with anything.”

Before 2003, when the law was enacted, courts followed the same criteria as they do under the current law, which requires lines to be drawn in this order:

Population based on U.S. census data;

Voting Rights Act of 1965, which bans discrimination;

Keeping cities and towns whole;

Tying communities of interest together;

Compacting district lines; and

Minimizing disruption of existing lines.

That law, which doesn’t apply to the Legislature when it redraws district lines, also prohibits considering party registration or prior election results.

The House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee, which approved the bill 7-3, amended it to keep those criteria, but removed any order in which they must be considered.

Some Republicans defended the current law, saying it’s needed to give the courts direction in future redistricting efforts.

“It seems to me that when we see a problem, it’s incumbent upon the Legislature to address that problem and give the court direction,” said Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, one of three Republicans on the panel who voted against the bill.

The law was changed during the 2003 legislative session when the then-GOP majority fast-tracked a bill in the final three days of the session to redraw congressional district lines.

At the time, Republican lawmakers said it was necessary to undo a map that was approved by the courts in 2002. Ultimately, the Republican map was struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court, and the prior map is the one that has been used since.

The current map ended up in court for the first time in Colorado’s history because the Colorado House and Senate couldn’t agree on congressional boundaries when they tried to define them during the 2001 and 2002 legislative sessions.

That’s partly because the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Republicans controlled the House during those sessions.


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