The Washington Supreme Court says the redistribution commission has met its deadline and is refusing to re-create maps
In one Surprise order The Washington Supreme Court on Friday morning declined to adopt draft new congressional and legislative plans. Instead, the court said the state’s bipartisan redistribution commission had completed its work on time and in accordance with state law last month.
“This is not a situation where the Supreme Court has to intervene because the commission has not agreed on a plan that it believes meets state and federal requirements,” the five-page order said.
The order, signed by all nine judges, marked a dramatic turnaround in events. It was previously believed that the commission missed its November 15 midnight deadline and the Supreme Court by law, must take responsibility for drawing new cards.
Instead, the judges found that a detailed one Timeline of events of the non-voting chairman of the commission showed “that the commission approved both redistribution plans within the constitutional deadline”.
Specifically, the judges found that every set of cards was approved before the midnight deadline. The fact that the commission submitted the reallocation plan to lawmakers after midnight is no reason to declare the process inconsistent with the law, the judges said.
“The court concludes that the main purpose of achieving a timely reallocation plan would not be hampered by the rejection of the Commission’s completed work,” the order said.
However, the court did not consider the constitutionality of the cards, which could still be challenged under state and federal law.
In a statement last month, the Redistricting Justice for Washington (RJW) group said the new cards “color communities are failing”. Specifically, RJW pointed to one Analysis of the UCLA Voting Rights Project the commission failed to create a federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) -compliant majority Latino district in the Yakima area.
“It appears that this district has been drawn to appearing to be a VRA-compliant district by reaching the 50% Latino threshold, but has been designed not to vote for Latino candidates “, It says in the analysis.
In an interview, Republican redistribution commissioner Paul Graves, a lawyer by training, disagreed.
“I believe the map we have drawn fully complies with the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Graves said, referring to the Section of the VRA prohibits racial discrimination in electoral practices or processes.
On Friday, a representative from RJW said the group was in talks to file a VRA lawsuit.
“I can say that we are actively investigating legal action,” said Andrew Hong, one of the co-directors of RJW.
Redistribution is a once a decade process This includes redrawing political boundaries based on population changes as determined by the last census. Since 1990, Washington relied on a bipartisan commission of two Democrats and two Republicans to draw the cards. At least three of the commissioners must vote to accept each set of cards. This year the cards received unanimous approval from the commission.
Under Washington law, the legislature has 30 days from the start of the legislature in January to amend the plan before it becomes final. However, any changes cannot affect more than two percent of the district’s population and must be passed by a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Never before has a Washington redistribution commission missed its deadline. But this year the commission was tight. The census data has been delayed due to the pandemic and the deadline for commissioners to present their agreed cards to lawmakers has been postponed from January 1 to mid-November.
On the evening of November 15, when the Commission convened its virtual public meeting to adopt the new cards, the Commissioners had not yet reached a final agreement. They negotiated out of the public eye until the midnight deadline when they hastily removed their votes.
At this point the public had not yet seen the cards. The secret nature of the final negotiations provoked immediate allegations that and even a lawsuit, by open government advocates and redistribution observers who said the process lacks transparency. The following day, the commission announced that it had missed the statutory deadline in its sole discretion and was referring the case to the Supreme Court as required by law.
On Friday, the court’s decision to bring the case back to the commission sparked a flurry of reactions, including from the commission itself.
“That makes me happy [the justices] have confirmed the work done by the commission, ”said Sarah Augustine, the non-voting chairwoman of the commission. “But from my point of view it was really important … that we recognize the authority of the court.”
Republican Commissioner Joe Fain, a former state senator, also praised the court’s decision. In a text message, he quoted the “political doctrine question,” which states that courts should reject cases involving a political question.
“The last 24 hours of the panel’s work have been frustrating and disappointing, but the court’s decision confirms the work and the finality of the reallocation plan,” Fain wrote.
The legislative leaders also participated.
“This gives security for the future to the people and communities of our state, and I appreciate that the court is moving quickly in this process,” House spokeswoman Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Her counterpart, Republican President of the House of Representatives, JT Wilcox, also praised the decision: “There is much to criticize about the cards, but I think this was an opportunity for the judiciary to respect the role of the legislature, and I’m glad that “you did.”
However, the top chairman of the State Senate reacted lukewarm. Majority leader Andy Billig, a Democrat, said that while he respected the authority of the court, he did not fully agree with the decision to return the post to the commission.
“We were hoping the court would take a closer look at and make changes to several aspects of the map that may not comply with state and federal laws, particularly those related to the proposed Yakima Valley Legislative District,” Billig said in a statement .
Heavy criticism of the court came from the Northwest Progressive Institute, a liberal think tank. In a statement, Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve said he was disappointed with the decision to accept the Commission’s cards.
“Anyone who watched the chaotic, disorganized meeting of the commission on November 15th realized that it was not completing its work on time,” said Villeneuve. “The Supreme Court here had the opportunity to correct this injustice and make a good ten-year ruling for our state, and unfortunately it refused.”
Villeneuve added that judges may still have a role to play if the cards are challenged in a state court. He also urged lawmakers to reform the reallocation process, including requiring the public to have at least seven days to review and comment on the final cards before they are adopted.
This story has been updated.