Colorado Congressional Redistricting Decision goes to the Dems: Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt approves ‘Moreno map’
In a surprise move announced at the close of Thursday’s business day, Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt approved the Democrat “Moreno Map” for Colorado’s Congressional districts – “a blow to Colorado Republicans that could affect election outcomes for the next decade.”
On the macro (statewide) level, the most noticeable changes:
- 2nd Congressional District: adds Larimer County, southern Jefferson County, drops half of Eagle County
- 3rd Congressional District: adds Lake County, most of Eagle County; drops Las Animas and Otero counties
- 4th Congressional District: loses Larimer County (to 2nd), gains Las Animas and Otero counties (from 3rd) and Douglas & Elbert counties (from 6th) along with most (the non-urban areas) of Arapahoe and Adams counties
- 5th Congressional District: drops Lake County (to 3rd CD)
Some of the greatest changes were made to Denver metro-area districts:
- 1st Congressional District: picks up chunks of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties along the southern edge of the current district
- 6th Congressional District: loses Elbert County, Douglas County (except Highlands Ranch) and the non-urban majority of Adams and Arapahoe counties to 4th CD; gains all of Aurora, northern Adams County suburbs (from 7th CD)
- 7th Congressional District: loses all of Aurora & northern Denver-metro (Adams County) suburbs to 6th CD; gains parts of Jefferson County
(UPDATE: the Denver Post has created a “find your proposed district” application)
Judge Hyatt’s ruling relies heavily on the “competitiveness” trope advanced by the Democrat plaintiffs as a consistent theme in both legal arguments and in the public-relations “framing” of the case in the media and public discussions.
(H/T Law Week Colorado for posting the court’s ruling online)
However, it must be noted that reliance on ”competitiveness” is a political argument, NOT a legal or constitutional argument (since there is neither a clear definition, nor constitutional requirement, for “competitiveness”), and as such has no place in a court ruling on the constitutional or legal merits of the maps.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Colorado Supreme Court consistently critiqued the notion of “competitiveness” as a basis for legal rulings during hearings on state legislative district maps, Denver District Court Judge Hyatt repeatedly cited “competitiveness” as a basis for ruling in favor of the ‘Moreno Map’, based on party registration numbers, not voting performance:
“the court gave no weight to information from prior elections” (Ruling at 43)
Judge Hyatt also relied heavily on the “discretionary factors” facilitated by the “Mary-mandering” legislation passed at the close of the 2010 legislative session in what has been confirmed by events as a preparatory move in the plan to send the issue of redistricting to the courts all along:
The General Assembly amended this statute in 2010 to repeal the statutory prohibition, adopted in 2004, against the use of political data such as party registration and so-called “political performance” data. (Ruling at 43)
The 2010 legislative changes not only added “political” or “non-neutral” data to the list of factors which could be considered by the courts, but also removed legal guidance on prioritizing other factors, allowing the judge to pick and choose the remaining “discretionary” factors according to his personal preference – which he did:
Of the discretionary factors specifically listed in the statute, the court finds that no factor is more important than a district’s communities of interest. (Ruling at 43)
Why should the factor of “community of interest” – subject to shifting and subjective definition – trump any of the other more objective and quantifiable factors set forth in Colorado statute?
Statutory Criteria for Congressional Redistricting
Colorado law [C.R.S. 2-1-102(1)(b)] also sets forth a number of discretionary criteria that this Court may consider. In Congressional redistricting litigation, a court:
May, without weight to any factor, utilize factors that include but (are) not limited to:
(I) The preservation of political subdivisions such as counties, cities, and towns. When county, city or town boundaries are changed, adjustments, if any, in districts shall be preserved by law.
(II) The preservation of communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, and demographic factors;
(III) The compactness of each congressional district; and
(IV) The minimization of disruption of prior district lines
Judge Hyatt was also selective in choosing which testimony he cited to define “communities of interest”, further moving the ruling from the realm of legal review based on consistent standards (rule of law) into the area of arbitrary decisions by a single individual (rule by caprice) – the very antithesis of “what makes a good judge.”
(Until court transcripts are available, Clear The Bench Colorado has the most comprehensive review and summary of the congressional redistricting trial arguments and testimony available).
Although the ultimate decision on Colorado’s Congressional District maps will be made by the Colorado Supreme Court (following the inevitable appeal), the district court’s decision has at a minimum framed the terms of the debate and set the conditions for the eventual outcome.
Sadly, the entire spectacle of judicial imposition of a political solution to Colorado’s Congressional District representation could have been prevented had the state legislature carried out their constitutionally-mandated responsibility to pass redistricting legislation instead of sending it to the courts last Spring – an outcome pursued by yesterday’s winners fully expecting a “friendly” set of judges.
- 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.