Saturday, February 04, 2012

Redistricting Court Challenge: Judge Sends 4 Districts Back To Board

Judge McConahy's decision on the Alaska Redistricting Board challenge came out Friday. The decision itself is 136 pages, plus nearly another 100 pages of appendices.  You can get the whole decision here.  The Judge has a whole list of terms at the beginning of the decision which might be helpful.  I've discussed them in various previous posts and I won't redefine them here.  Overall, the decision is quite readable.  But then I've been immersed in this stuff since last March, so I'm not a good judge.

I've gone through it pretty quickly, but here are some key points I see.

Basically he sent back four districts to the Board to be redrawn.  These are the four districts that were found to be unconstitutional in summary judgments before the trial opened - Districts 1 and 2 in Fairbanks, District 37 which splits the Aleutians, and District 38 which combines suburban Fairbanks with rural and roadless villages all the way to the coast.

Districts 37 and 38 are both effective Native districts.  Both had more Native population than necessary to qualify as effective under the Voting Rights Act.  He focused on the Board's reluctance to pair Democratic Native Senator Lyman Hoffman of Bethel with Republican Senate President Gary Stevens of Kodiak as insufficient reason to violate the state constitution's compactness and contiguity requirements.  He concluded that the speculation that such a pairing might be seen as a violation of the Voting Rights Act by the Department of Justice was not strong enough grounds to violate the constitution.
"Ultimately the Board is asking the court to approve the split of the Aleutian Chain so that  Native Senator Hoffman will not be paired because DOJ might not pre-clear the plan.  The court does not find that this option was necessary under the VRA but rather is speculative.  There will always be groups that are unhappy and they all have the option of objecting to DOJ.  The Board cannot base the plan on fear of speculative consequences." [p. 127]  
You can read the specifics of the Judge's analysis on pages 123 - 127 of the decision.

This conclusion, coupled with the fact that both districts 37 and 38 had (plus neighboring district 36 had significantly) more Native population than they needed to be effective, led to the judge remanding 38 as well.

District 1 in Fairbanks was remanded because of the finger that protrudes into District 4.  (See this recent post for a map.]  While the judge rejected plaintiff's allegations of political gerrymandering here, he found the Board's reasoning for the irregularity (strange protrusions are a sign of lack of compactness in the redistricting standards literature) - to keep the deviations low - unpersuasive.  He mentions the fact that plaintiff's witness, Leonard Lawson, could  make minor adjustments to the district without affecting deviation.

The judge has little to say about District 2.
"The court previously found that Proclamation House District 2 was not compact.  The Board did not argue that the Proclamation House District 2 was necessary under the VRA.  No evidence was presented on Proclamation House District 2 at trial.  The court remands Proclamation House District 2 to the Board to redraw."  [Map of HD 2 at this post.]
Significantly for the future of the Alaska State Senate, the Judge did not accept the plaintiff's arguments that pairing two Fairbanks Democratic Senators was done for partisan reasons and he did not rule against the allegations that underlay those charges.

Will Affect More than the Four Districts, But First Going To Alaska Supreme Court

Although four districts have been remanded for redrawing, it will be impossible to redraw those four without affecting the districts around them.  And while the Board staff might start playing around with maps this weekend, the Board will surely appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.  The judge's ruling even addresses the Supreme Court on occasion.

Below I've copied the conclusion points in the judge's decision from pages 134 - 136.

[UPDATE 11am: I forgot to mention that the Board will meet Tuesday, February 7 at 10 am to discuss their next actions, though since this relates to litigation, I would guess much of the meeting will be off the record.  Their January 24 notice said:
This meeting will be streamed at In the event you can't listen on internet you may call 1-855-463-5009. This is a listen only meeting.  Testimony will not be taken.]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Steve, for reporting on this topic as you have. ADN once again, covering so little of this important decision, is very disappointing.


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