In the previous chapter of this never ending saga, last May the Supreme Court accepted for the August primary and the November election one of many plans created by the Redistricting Board, which was starting to sound very frustrated. But the Supreme Court did let it be known that this might not be the last plan, but this seemed to be the best available plan ready in time for candidates to file for the elections.
The plaintiffs in the previous lawsuit challenged the plan used in November's election and this decision today does say that they must follow the requirements set out last spring.
I've added brackets and step numbers [Step 1, etc.] to make it a little easier to see the steps along the way. Here's the Introduction to Supreme Court No. S-14721 [pdf]:
Earlier in the current redistricting cycle, [Step 1] we issued an order remanding to the superior court with instructions to remand to the redistricting board to formulate a new plan in compliance with our case law. We agreed with the superior court that, in drafting its plan, the board failed to follow the process we mandated in order to ensure that the redistricting plan would comply with the Alaska Constitution and thus may have unnecessarily violated the Alaska Constitution. [Step 2] Upon remand, the board was instructed to follow this process so that we could appropriately judge whether its violations of the Alaska Constitution were absolutely necessary for compliance with federal law. [Step 3] The board then submitted a modified plan to the superior court that changed only four out of forty house districts from the original plan; [Step 4] this amended plan was similarly rejected by the superior court because, among other reasons, the board failed to follow the process that we required in order to ensure compliance with the Alaska Constitution. [Step 5] The board petitions for review of the superior court’s decision. [Step 6] We accept the petition for review and, because the board failed to follow the process that we ordered upon remand, we affirm the decision of the superior court and require the board to draft a new plan for the 2014 elections. We agree with the board that it is not required to make specific findings about each individual district relating to the requirements of the Alaska Constitution nor to submit a plan to the superior court at each stage of drafting. [emphasis added]
It might be useful to also include the majority's conclusion:
Because the Board failed to follow the Hickel process when drafting its Amended Proclamation Plan, we AFFIRM the superior court’s ruling invalidating that plan and REMAND this case to the Board to draft a new plan based on strict adherence to the Hickel process. We REVERSE the superior court’s rulings that the Board must make specific findings on the constitutionality of each house district and that the Board must submit the plan to the court for approval at each stage of drafting.
I would further note:
1. This was a three to two majority opinion.
2. Within the majority, Judge Winfree wrote a dissenting opinion, in part, with which Judge Stowers joined.
3. Judge Matthews wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Fabe. This dissent is a bit longer than the original decision and concludes:
Today’s opinion sends the redistricting process mandated as a result of the 2010 census back to ground zero. Much new litigation, by new parties as well as those already before us, will result. All the disruptions of redistricting that are necessarily endured every ten years will be repeated in the next two.4. The Redistricting Board knew its plan had been challenged and the board members knew there was a possibility they would be called together to redo the plan after the election. Presumably they are ready to come back together.
The cause of this drastic remedy, according to the majority opinion, is the Board’s use of unchallenged districts in devising a Hickel plan. But the Board did not consider that its hands were tied by the unchallenged districts, and there were practical reasons why the Board would choose to build on rather than toss out the unchallenged work that it had already done. Rather than force a return to the point of beginning, I think we should take the next logical step in this litigation and determine whether the Board’s Hickel plan was based on the requirements of the Alaska Constitution.
5. As I understand it, all but one of the staff have been let go. I know the executive director has taken another job and presumably the others have too.