Meet the folks who are likely to decide political division in Minnesota

It may be a disappointment to lawmakers in outgoing states who are worried about what their districts might look like in the next election, but the panel of five judges this will likely draw new political maps as Minnesota doesn’t care where they live.

Judges also don’t care whether the new districts are helping the incumbents or hurting the incumbents. Or if they favor the DFL or the Republicans.

“Districts should not be designed for the purpose of protecting, promoting or defeating any incumbent, candidate or political party,” it reads one of the design principles for new political constituencies approved by the panel on November 18. “The panel will not draw districts based on the residency of office holders and will not consider past election results when drawing districts.”

This is the difference between maps drawn by lawmakers and maps drawn by judges.

Indeed, the maps recently produced by House DFLers and House Republicans the party that attracted them was taken advantage of. The House DFL plan has 12 districts where Republican incumbents have been placed in the same district, forcing them to run against each other or relocate, while the House GOP plan has nine districts where two current DFL incumbents are grouped together. . Peter Wattson, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit asking the courts to take charge of the redistricting, called the House Redistricting Committee cards “more humorous than serious”.

And so, since the chances of a bipartisan agreement on such a partisan subject are slim – and since the 2022 legislature will only sit two weeks before the deadline set by state law to act – it’s the panel. of five judges and their indifference to the party and the politicians that will count.

These five are Judge Louise Bjorkman of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, who presides; Court of Appeal Judge Diane Bratvold; Seventh Judicial District Judge Jay Carlson, Tenth Judicial District Judge Juanita Freeman and Third Judicial District Judge Jodi Williamson. In addition to oral argument held last month, the panel conducted 10 public hearings across the state in October.

Selected by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, Lorie Gildea, the five last week received decks of cards and reports from the four parties, known as interveners, who asked the court to take over the work. One such group is led by a former Senate District Attorney and a former Ramsey County Election Supervisor (referred to as the Wattson Plaintiffs); another has GOP tendencies (the Anderson claimants); a third comes with DFL links (the Sachs plaintiffs); and a fourth advocates that Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) communities have more weight in the Legislative Assembly (the Corrie claimants).

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Three other important dates are to come: Friday, the four groups involved in the case can respond in writing to the work of the others; on January 3, they will meet before the panel of five judges to present oral arguments in support of their plans and to criticize others; and on February 15, the panel will release maps for the eight congressional districts, the 67 state Senate districts, and the 134 state chamber districts.

It all depends on the Legislative Assembly not agreeing to its own plans by February 15. If that does not happen, it would also be the first time in five decades that the Minnesota Legislature has successfully accepted new political cards. But if things go as planned, those maps drawn by the courts on February 15 will be the official maps – and create the districts – that will decide the 2022 elections.

To watch, or not to watch, the partisan advantage

At a hearing in November, the four groups involved in the redistribution case agreed that the tribunal cannot and should not consider politics – an approach that guided similar panels 10 and 20 years ago. . But there was disagreement over whether the panel should know the political implications of the various plans submitted.

Adam Sienkowski, an attorney representing Wattson’s plaintiffs, who filed the first lawsuit calling for court intervention, argued that anyone submitting maps should outline the partisan implications of their plans. This is a common piece of cartographers, showing how many incumbents are placed in the same districts and how, based on past elections, the new districts would treat GOP and DFL candidates.

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But how can the court be blind to a party’s advantage if it knows how the submitted plans help or hurt parties and their candidates?

“You have to watch under the tent,” Sienkowsky told the panel. “We don’t want to hide the partisanship of the party plan. We want people to see it and quite frankly the only people who oppose it are the political parties. “

But Jonathan Hawley, an attorney representing DFL stakeholders, called Sinkowsky’s request to ask stakeholders to point out the political impacts of their plans “untested and controversial.” Hawley said it’s possible one party or another will inadvertently profit when plans seek to adhere to other redistribution principles – failing to separate racial groups in a way that decreases their electoral weight, for example.

“There are inevitable partisan side effects that come from sorting and grouping people,” Hawley said.

Amy Erickson, a lawyer representing the group pushing for maximum impact for BIPOC voters, Corrie’s complainants, said the principle should not be partisan. “Our position is that our principle is neutral vis-à-vis the parties,” she said. But because the group wants to keep communities of color together as much as possible, Corrie’s so-called plaintiffs are dividing local government between districts far more than other planes.

Elizabeth Brama, representing Anderson’s plaintiffs, said it would be unusual for the panel to require interveners to describe the partisan pros and cons of the cards in the reports, as it “elevates the partisanship of the whole process ”.

Brama also objected to suggestions that the two stakeholders with ties to the GOP and DFL are the only supporters of the process. “It is incorrect to say that because there are parties here that are clear on their allegiances they are trying to inject too much partisanship into the process or that they are the only parties that have political interests,” said Brama.

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Ultimately, the panel did not ask groups to submit data on partisan benefits, such as the number of incumbents matched. But that won’t stop lawyers from pointing out what they see as partisan manipulation in their written responses on Friday or in oral argument on January 3, either. In other words, the data can be used to allege or deny that a proposed plan violates the principle against partisan gerrymandering.

The panel of judges demanded reports on the population; how plans divide political subdivisions; and the minority voting age population of each proposed constituency. He also wants to see how the neighborhoods respond to the compactness measures.

The court’s final plan will be based on the idea of ​​making the districts “nearly equal” in terms of population, not be drawn in such a way as to deny or restrict “the right to vote of any American citizen on the basis of race, ethnicity or membership of a minority language group, “and will not divide federally recognized Native American tribes. The principles also call for political subdivisions such as cities and counties not to be divided” more than necessary “to achieve the above objective, that the districts must consist of contiguous and practical territory and must try to preserve” communities of people with common interests “.

In explaining its position on partisanship, the panel noted that “redistribution is a political process with political consequences”, which is why the job is first assigned to the Legislature.

“But when the courts draw district boundaries, they are not just acting lawmakers,” reads the order signed by Bjorkman. “The courts do not have ‘political authority’ to make political judgments. Previous special panels have finally looked at cardholder addresses and made small card corrections, perhaps when a cardholder is tightly placed outside of their district. But in the memo explaining the court order, the panel said that “… if we are called upon to draw new districts, we will do so only by applying our stated neutral redistribution principles.”

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