Minnesota’s Special Redistricting Panel ruled today that it will consider “communities of interest” should it be forced to redraw Minnesota’s political boundaries next year. The job would fall to the courts if the Governor and the Minnesota legislature cannot come to agreement on a plan by February.
The panel of district judges says “communities of interest” include, but are not limited to “groups of Minnesota citizens with clearly recognizable similarities of social, geographic, political, cultural, ethnic, economic, or other interests.”
Last week during oral arguments before the panel, attorneys for the DFL had argued for consideration of “communities of interest”. Lawyers for Minnesota Republicans argued that “communities of interest” were important “but they are not…superior to the concept of, for
example, political subdivisions.”
The panel appears to have sided with the Republican argument saying that political subdivisions, such as town and county boundaries, should not be divided “more than necessary”, and “communities of interest” shall be be preserved “where possible”. The order of the panel’s ruling appears to give city and county lines priority over ethnic groups.
That’s not surprising since that’s essentially the way a similar panel ruled in 2002 when Minnesota redistricting fell to the courts.
That said, the panel says Legislative and Congressional districts “shall not be drawn with the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the voting rights of any United States Citizen on account of race, ethnicity, or membership in a language minority group.” The panel also states that districts cannot be drawn for the purpose of keeping or defeating a current legislator.
The court has given all sides until Friday November 18th to submit redistricting maps that conform to its redistricting principles. A copy of those plans will also be given to Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature to consider. The court will hear oral arguments for the new maps on January 4th, 2012 at 9:30 AM.
In 2002, the public was given an opportunity to comment on the maps before the court made its final ruling. There is no provision for doing the same this year. However that could change if outside groups intervene and ask for a hearing.
Should the Governor and the Legislature not reach an agreement by February 21, 2012 and the court must intervene, the panel notes the congressional and legislative districts it draws will have to meet a higher standard of population accuracy than one the legislature draws. A court ordered district has the goal of “absolute population equity”. Because Minnesota’s total population from the census is not divisible by eight, the panel says the ideal result is five districts of 662,991 people and three districts of 662,990 people.
Legislative districts approved by the court need to be plus or minus two percent of the “ideal” population for a district. For a Minnesota Senate district that’s 79,163. For a Minnesota House district that’s 39,582.
The panel swept away a motion to declare Minnesota’s current Congressional and Legislative districts “unconstitutional”. The panel said redistricting only applies to the 2012 “regular elections”. Assuming the current districts would still be in effect come November of 2012 is “hypothetical” wrote Judge Wilhelmina Wright, and issues of constitutionality cannot be considered for “purely hypothetical” situations.