Colorado Lawmakers Told to Butt Out of Redistricting Effort

June 4, 2021 by Dan McCue
Colorado Supreme Court chamber. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the independence of the state’s redistricting commissions, holding that an effort by the General Assembly to change the process violated the state constitution.

The ruling came as a result of an interrogatory lawsuit filed after the General Assembly began to consider Senate Bill 21- 247.

The bipartisan bill sought to redefine what data the redistricting commissions can use to draw new political districts ahead of the 2022 general election. 

Instead of using “necessary census data” as defined by state statutes, the legislation sought to allow the commissions to continue their work based on the total population counts that the Census Bureau released in April.

In a 5-2 ruling, the state Supreme Court held that SB 21-247 would be unconstitutional if enacted because “the independent commissions were established by voters specifically to remove authority from the General Assembly over the redistricting process.”

But the justices went on to say nothing in the voter-approved ballot measure requires the redistricting commissions to require “exclusive use” of final census data, and the commissions are “free to consult other reliable sources of population data.”

Senate Bill 21-247 also sought to make other changes to the redistricting process, including requiring an additional public hearing on map drawing to be held after the commissions update their plans using final census data. Lawmakers also sought to direct courts on what legal standard they should use if a party sues to challenge the final redistricting plans. 

The court also rejected those proposed changes. 

“The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed that the independent commissions are just that– independent,” said Carlos Perez, chair of the Legislative Redistricting Commission in a statement Tuesday.

“The overwhelming support for Amendments Y and Z in 2018 unequivocally demonstrated that the voters are highly skeptical that a partisan process will yield fair maps,” he said.

In fact, the commissions have already voted themselves to move forward with the use of preliminary data. 

After the court’s opinion was released Tuesday, the commissions released new deadlines, with plans to finish drawing preliminary maps by June 23 for the Congressional Redistricting Commission and June 28 for the Legislative Redistricting Commission.

The two commissions plan to hold joint public hearings on the preliminary maps from July 7 through August 30. 

Once the U.S. Census Bureau releases additional data on August 16, staff would begin preparing so-called staff maps.

Public hearings on staff maps, based on final census data, will then be held in September, and the commissions plan to complete the redistricting process by the end of the year.

Majority Leader Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat, said in a statement that the General Assembly’s bipartisan bill was aimed at allowing the commissions to move forward with preliminary census data and avoid disruptions.

“The court in its ruling today allowed the commission to use preliminary data and the process the General Assembly suggested. It’s now up to the commission to decide how to proceed,” Esgar said.

In a statement of its own, the Colorado House GOP caucus said, “Coloradans deserve a truly independent redistricting process that is free from political influence or partisan gerrymandering. 

“Our citizens are best served by many competitive districts where candidates must compete based on the values of their policies and not the partisan letter behind their name on the ballot,” the statement said.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office also issued a statement that said: “Today’s decision from the Colorado Supreme Court is encouraging as it enables the redistricting commissions’ timely completion of the congressional and state electoral maps.

“Timely completion of the final electoral maps is important, as the 2022 election calendar and the date of the statewide primary could otherwise be delayed,” the statement continued. “The Secretary of State’s Office will continue to work with stakeholders on this crucial issue.”

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