Writings and observations

ID: Back to the redistricting board

Was said here that the legislative redistricting map produced late last year by the Idaho redistricting commission looked reasonable and ought to pass constitutional muster. That opinion doesn’t change.

Has also been said here, from time to time, that you can never conclusively predict what a court will do. That one too remains valid: The Idaho Supreme Court has just thrown out the redisticting plan. C’est la vie.

The summary says, simply, “This is a petition challenging the constitutionality of Plan L 87, a legislative redistricting
plan adopted by the commission for reapportionment. We hold that the plan is invalid because it violates Article III, section 5, of the Idaho Constitution by dividing more counties than necessary to comply with the Constitution of the United States. The commission for reapportionment is directed to reconvene to adopt a revised plan.”

The issue is division of counties. The appeal of the commission was brought by Twin Falls County, which is divided into three pieces (politically, we would say, more an advantage than not), and which argued that the 12 divisions of counties were too many and unnecessary to comply with other requirements. The Supreme Court: “Plan L 87 divides twelve counties. The commission considered and rejected other plans that comply with the Federal Constitution and divide fewer counties. Thus, Plan L 87 does not divide counties only to the extent that counties must be divided to comply with the Federal Constitution. It likewise does not avoid dividing counties whenever possible in violation of Idaho Code section 72-1506(5). It therefore violates Article III, section 5, of the Idaho
Constitution and the statute. We are not holding that the commission must adopt any particular plan. The plans submitted to the commission show that there are different ways to draw legislative districts that comply with both the State and Federal Constitutions.”

Even with that said, this is a bit of an unusual decision in the more limited discretion its gives the commission. That’s not our lone opinion; it also shows up in a strong dissent from Justice Jim Jones:

I read Article III, §§ 2 and 5 of the Idaho Constitution to grant the Commission a good deal of discretion in developing its redistricting plan, and I believe this Court should, as it has in the past, grant substantial deference to determinations made by the Commission. In my view, the Commission performed in an exemplary fashion in developing Plan L87. It made detailed findings of fact, clearly explaining how the plan was developed, the steps it took to comply with one-person, one-vote requirements, its rationale for dividing or splitting counties, and how it applied the legislative guidelines in I.C. § 72-1506.

On the other hand, the Petitioners, although disagreeing with several of the county splitsmade by the Commission, failed to present any competent evidence to cast doubt upon the validity of the Commission’s findings. Petitioners presented no competent evidence showing that a lesser number of splits could be accomplished, while observing the requirements of the federal and state constitutions, as well as the Legislature’s guidelines. Petitioners do not refer in their papers to any plan in the record that contains a fewer number of splits than L87. Petitioners proffered a plan that they claim would accomplish reapportionment with just six county splits but, when viewed based upon the criteria in the record for determining splits, their plan contains eight county splits. That compares with twelve splits for Plan L87. Petitioners did not submit their proposed plan to the Commission, so it is not a part of the Commission’s record. Petitioners’ plan is not authenticated, there is no indication of who prepared it, what criteria were considered, or who determined where and why splits should be made. Therefore, it is not competent evidence before the Court.

But, the court’s take is dispositive. Back to the maps.

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