Thursday, March 15, 2012

Alaska Supreme Court Sends Redistricting Plan Back To Board

The most significant consequence of the decision, as I read through it, is that the Alaska Redistricting Board must go back and redraw the redistricting plan starting with the requirements of the Alaska Constitution AND THEN make any necessary adjustments to also make it comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Board's strategy was to start with the Voting Rights Act requirements (because they believed, probably correctly, that this was the hardest part) and the resulting plan - acknowledged by the Board - did not comply totally with the Alaska State Constitution.

The Board did this on the advice of their attorney who early on said that the federal Voting Rights Act took precedence over the state Constitution.  While this is true, the Supreme Court pointed out that in Hickel v. Southeast Conference, a 1992 decision following the redistricting process in 1990 Census, the Court set out a procedure for redistricting boards to follow which began with a plan that was in compliance with the Alaska Constitution.

Specifically, the Court ordered:
  1. "The Board must first design a plan focusing on compliance with the article VI, section 6 [of the Alaska Constitution] requirements of contiguity, compactness, and relative socioeconomic integration; it may consider local government boundaries and should use drainage and other geographic features in describing boundaries wherever possible."  [emphasis added]
  2.  "Once such a plan is drawn, the Board must determine whether it complies with the Voting Rights Act and, to the extent it is noncompliant, make revisions that deviate from the Alaska Constitution when deviation is "the only means available to satisfy Voting Rights Act requirements."
I'm posting this - what I think is the most significant immediate impact of the decision - now to get it out and I will follow up with a post the goes through the whole decision later today. 

[UPDATE 9:08am:  I should have mentioned that the court did allow for the possibility of using the Board's proclamation plan (the one the court wants redrawn) to stand for the 2012 election if the Board cannot get a new plan redrawn in time.]

I would note that  both parties told me they thought the decision would be back within ten days.  The oral arguments were heard Tuesday, March 13.  The decision is dated Wednesday,  March 14!

Three of the five sitting justices had been on the last redistricting case, one had been on the last two, so they were familiar with the legal issues.

The whole decision is here.  It's only seven pages.

[I'd also note that the report on the prosecutorial misconduct in the Stevens case came out today, so  I'll be busy.]

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