Colorado Supreme Court rejects state legislative district maps, remands to Colorado Reapportionment Commission for corrections

The Colorado Supreme Court rejected the state legislative district maps submitted by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission, remanding the maps back to the commission with instructions for addressing constitutional deficiencies.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling, ” In re Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly,” rejected arguments putting “competitiveness” ahead of constitutional criteria for defining the boundaries of Colorado’s state legislative districts:

The supreme court holds that the finalized Reapportionment Plan is not sufficiently attentive to county boundaries to meet the requirements of article V, section 47(2), and the Colorado Reapportionment Commission has not made an adequate showing that a less drastic alternative could not have satisfied the hierarchy of constitutional criteria set forth in In re Reapportionment of the Colo. Gen. Assembly, 45 P.3d 1237 (Colo. 2002). The supreme court returns the plan to the Commission for further consideration, modification, and resubmission by 5:00 p.m. on December 6, 2011.

The court’s decision followed challenges to the commission’s maps submitted by eleven Colorado counties and other interested parties, based primarily on violations of the constitutional requirement to maintain county integrity to the extent possible.

The commission’s maps split counties more than necessary to maintain numerical parity between districts, and failed to apportion a number of “whole” state legislative districts within counties that qualified based on population.

The court also rejected the notion, advanced by Democrat plaintiffs, that “competitiveness” – a concept lacking constitutional or statutory definition -could trump constitutional criteria in drawing state legislative boundaries.

Several plaintiffs also cited the fact that the commission’s maps submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for constitutional review were introduced at the 11th hour by the commission’s lone unaffiliated member, Chairman Mario Carrera, in substitution for other maps which had been scrutinized in public hearings over the course of the summer (one round of hearings in June, followed by another round of public hearings on maps incorporating public comment and testimony throughout the month of August).  The maps voted out of commission and submitted to the court were not subjected to public comment or testimony, and in many cases contradicted the views expressed by individual citizens and county governments.

Since the maps failed to meet the criteria set forth in the Colorado Constitution, particularly the requirement to maintain county integrity where possible, the eleven challenges filed by county governments around the state were inevitable.

Clear The Bench Colorado had the most complete and accurate coverage of last week’s hearing by the court, and even predicted the outcome (down to the 4-2 margin of decision).

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 legislative districts to pass constitutional review.

Additional references:

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