Colorado Congressional Redistricting goes to the courts

For the fourth consecutive decade, the ultimate decision on the shape of Colorado’s Congressional districts will fall to the courts.  Despite Colorado’s clear constitutional language assigning responsibility for Congressional redistricting to the General Assembly, the state legislature again failed to pass a redistricting bill and abdicated responsibility to the judicial branch – further politicizing the courts.

This intentional politicization of the judiciary – increasingly seen as acting as just another category of politician, distinguished from the other branches only by a unique mode of dress (black robes) – is corrosive to our institutions, and undermines the sanctity of the rule of law.

The Colorado Constitution, Article V Section 44, unambiguously assigns this responsibility to the legislative branch:

Text of Section 44:Representatives in Congress.
The general assembly shall divide the state into as many congressional districts as there are representatives in congress apportioned to the state by the congress of United States for the election of one representative to congress for each district. When a new apportionment shall be made by congress, the general assembly shall divide the state into congressional districts accordingly.

For the second consecutive decade, Colorado is treated to the sad spectacle of the state Senate majority blocking any possibility of compromise legislation and intentionally sending the issue to the courts.  The plan has apparently been in the works for at least a year – with the 2010 session closing out with the “Mary-mandering” bill (HB1408) enabling the courts to consider “non-neutral factors” such as partisan affiliation when evaluating redistricting plans.

The first step in the court battle over Colorado Congressional redistricting was taken even before the legislature had officially adjourned, with the filing of two lawsuits (one from the Democrats, one from the Republicans) on Tuesday, 10 May 2011, in Denver District Court (which has original jurisdiction).

As reported in Law Week Colorado,

Competing lawsuits over the redistricting of Colorado’s Congressional districts have been randomly assigned to Denver District Court Judge William Hood, who has been registered as an unaffiliated voter since April 2008. His previous political affiliation wasn’t immediately known.

Hood, a 2007 appointee of Democratic former Gov. Bill Ritter, was at the time of his appointment a lawyer with Denver law firm Isaacson Rosenbaum. Hood was retained in the 2010 judicial retention election [Ed. Note: Hood will therefore next be subject to a retention vote in 2016, since District Court judges serve a term of 6 years]

However, the case may not remain with Judge Hood, due to his past association (working together at the same law firm) with Democrat attorney Mark Grueskin, as also reported by Law Week online:

Denver District Judge William Hood, who was randomly assigned to hear Colorado congressional redistricting lawsuits filed Tuesday by Republicans and Democrats, once was a law-firm colleague of the lead attorney for the Democratic side.

Before his appointment to the Denver bench in 2007, Hood worked at Isaacson Rosenbaum, the firm that until recently employed Democratic Party lawyer Mark Grueskin.

Asked about a possible conflict between himself and the judge, Grueskin said, “Even before you get to the issue that he and I were formerly colleagues, he may have a docket that’s full.”

Astute observers of Clear The Bench Colorado (or of Colorado politics in general) may recall Mark Grueskin from his role in establishing a shadowy and well-funded special-interest group to counteract the Clear The Bench Colorado judicial accountability efforts during the 2010 judicial retention elections.

In any event, the case (combined cases, actually) bears careful watching as it plays out in court.

Additional references:

  • 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.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

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