Colorado Reapportionment Commission files final plan for state legislative districts for review by Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Reapportionment Commission (charged with drawing our state legislative districts) submitted the final (approved) set of state legislative district maps for Colorado, having completed two rounds of hearing public testimony (meetings in Denver from 31 May to 25 July, followed by meetings around the state throughout the month of August) and a final commission meeting on 12 September, to the Colorado Supreme Court for review of constitutionality, as required by law. (Read Court filing here)

The competing plans for put forward for consideration and public review by the major parties (Democrats and Republicans) over the summer were modified significantly based on public testimony, but were ultimately all rendered irrelevant by the eleventh-hour introduction of an entirely new set of maps by the commission’s sole unaffiliated member (and chair) Mario Carrera – the maps that were, in the end, approved.

The Colorado Supreme Court is now required to review the approved maps for compliance with constitutional requirements.  Ironically, since the approved maps were drawn up almost entirely by Colorado Reapportionment Commission Chair Mario Carrera, who was appointed to the commission by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, the court will essentially be reviewing the work product of its own appointee – a potential conflict of interest that in other circumstances might warrant recusal, and which highlights the problematic involvement of the courts in deciding issues of policy and politics.

The following quick-reference summary of constitutional provisions controlling how Colorado’s legislative districts are drawn is provided with a view towards informing public comprehension of what are sure to be both contentious and complex discussions.

Colorado Constitutional Requirements:

  • Equal population (with no more than 5% deviation;  ideal district size – Senate: 143, 691, House: 77,372) (Colorado Constitution Article V, Section 46)
  • Counties cannot be split unless necessary to achieve equal population between districts

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.  Article V, Section 47(2)

  • Municipalities may not be split unless necessary to achieve equal population between districts (Article V, Section 47(2))
  • Districts must be as compact and contiguous as possible, and consist of whole precincts

(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. (Article V, Section 47(1))

  • Finally, communities of interest – ethnic, economic, cultural, demographic, trade area and geographic – are to be preserved whenever possible

(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. (Article V, Section 47(3))

Note that per a previous Colorado Supreme Court ruling (In re: Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly), these criteria are listed in order of priority – i.e. there’s a hierarchy of constitutional criteria which must be satisfied in order for district maps to pass constitutional review.

Additional references:

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.

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