Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold testifies on constitutional guidelines for Colorado Congressional Redistricting
As the 2011 Colorado legislative session draws to a close (and with it, the prospects for the General Assembly to exercise its decennial constitutional obligation to re-draw Colorado’s Congressional Districts, the final chance for Citizens to weigh in comes down to the wire. Since the legislative session MUST conclude by midnight Wednesday, and sufficient time must elapse between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd readings of a bill, Tuesday is the last possible opportunity for a compromise Redistricting bill to be introduced and for Citizens to express their opinion.
Last week on Thursday, 5 May 2011, both the House and Senate held hearings soliciting Citizen testimony on the competing maps under consideration. MANY ordinary Colorado Citizens showed up to testify, most (overwhelmingly) critical of the Senate (Democrat) Redistricting map. Douglas County was especially well represented – perhaps they were perturbed by the Senate (Democrat) map’s placing them in the same Congressional District with Boulder?
Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold offered testimony on the competing Congressional Redistricting maps, discussing the relevant constitutional and statutory language and applicable case law. The following excerpt recreates that testimony as best as possible from memory and my scribbled notes.
My name is Matt Arnold; I am representing myself as a Citizen, and also as the Executive Director of Clear The Bench Colorado, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization established to educate the public about, and promote accountability for, the Colorado judiciary, our third branch of state government.
Due to the high potential for the Congressional Redistricting issue to be ultimately decided by the courts and the troubling precedent of judicial usurpation of the constitutional responsibility of the legislature in the most recent redistricting court case (in which the Colorado Supreme Court essentially declared itself ‘part of the General Assembly’ for the purpose of redistricting), I rise to offer testimony on the relevant constitutional, statutory, and case law guidelines governing redistricting in Colorado.
I am not married to any particular map – but I am wedded to the Constitution.
Over a decade ago, I raised my right hand and swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution” – of the United States and the State of Colorado. Each of you, on taking office, swore a similar oath – and are equally bound by that oath of office, as a condition of your service.
The Colorado Constitution – Article V, Section 47 – imposes several distinct mandates on the composition of Colorado’s Congressional and state legislative districts:
Text of Section 47:
Composition of Districts.
(1) Each district shall be as compact in area as possible and the aggregate linear distance of all district boundaries shall be as short as possible. Each district shall consist of contiguous whole general election precincts. Districts of the same house shall not overlap.
(2) Except when necessary to meet the equal population requirements of section 46, no part of one county shall be added to all or part of another county in forming districts. Within counties whose territory is contained in more than one district of the same house, the number of cities and towns whose territory is contained in more than one district of the same house shall be as small as possible. When county, city, or town boundaries are changed, adjustments, if any, in legislative districts shall be as prescribed by law.
(3) Consistent with the provisions of this section and section 46 of this article, communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, and demographic factors, shall be preserved within a single district wherever possible.
Nowhere in the relevant constitutional language, statutory language, or even relevant case law is there ANY reference to “competitiveness” as a criterion guiding the composition of Congressional districts.
“Competitiveness” is NOT – however defined – a factor to be considered in drawing Congressional district boundaries.
Indeed, the very notion of “competitiveness” is a false construct – a canard.
Particularly when defined on the basis of partisan affiliation among registered voters, the very notion is laughable. Republicans, Democrats, and Unaffiliated voters differ significantly by area – a Denver “R” is different from a Douglas County “R”, as a Denver “D” differs from an Alamosa “D” or a Baca “D.”
People – and their interests – are defined by more than voter registration partisan affiliation.
Finally – I strongly urge the members of the General Assembly to keep it out of the courts!
Despite the apparent intentions of some to reprise the strategy from the 2000 Redistricting experience – indicated by passage of the so-called “Mary-mandering” legislation at the close of the 2010 legislative session which enables consideration of “non-neutral factors” in court evaluation of redistricting plans – it remains the constitutional duty and responsibility of the General Assembly, and the General Assembly alone.
Do Your Job! Pass a Redistricting bill, carry out – don’t abdicate – your responsibilities as legislators.
Clear The Bench Colorado urges Colorado citizens to take advantage of what may be a final opportunity to weigh in on how – and whether – the Colorado General Assembly exercises its constitutional duty (it IS the responsibility of the General Assembly – and no other body or branch of government, according to our state Constitution (Article V, Section 44) – to do the job. Contact your state representatives and senators and urge them to carry out their responsibilities, do their job, and pass a redistricting bill.
- Constitutional Provisions Controlling Reapportionment/Redistricting (official Colorado state website, which collates relevant constitutional language on Congressional redistricting and state legislative reapportionment)
- Redistricting in Colorado (Ballotpedia site – although the site contains several errors, some of which are being corrected, it does provide useful context and historical background on past restricting battles. As with any Wiki site – contributions come from a variety of sources and are frequently edited – proceed with some skepticism)
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.