Colorado redistricting

2011 Year in Review: Colorado Courts Continue to Play Politics

Colorado Courts Continue to Play Politics in 2011…

Another tumultuous year has come and gone for the Colorado judiciary – and once again, Colorado Citizens and taxpayers have been hammered by the gavels of Colorado judges pounding their personal preferences over the will of the people – and the rule of law.

Last year closed with Colorado being declared a “judicial hellhole” by a national judicial evaluation organization (one of only three state supreme courts nationwide to qualify for the “honor”, joining Michigan and perennial favorite West Virginia in being so recognized).  The 2011 legislative session failed in repealing all but two of 2010’s unconstitutional “Dirty Dozen” tax increases (facilitated by the Colorado Supreme Court) or the even more onerous 2009 “FASTER” Colorado Car Tax legislation (aided and abetted by yet another anti-constitutional ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority” enabling taxes to masquerade as “fees”), and even almost passed another tax increase (the “movie-ticket tax“) attempting to exploit the court’s creation of anti-TABOR “loopholes.”

Spring and Summer was dominated by legislative battles over congressional redistricting (sadly, the state senate reprised the 2000 playbook of abdicating responsibility to send it to the courts) and the Colorado Reapportionment Commission’s public hearings on re-setting the boundaries of our state legislative districts.  Both issues came to a head in court battles during the Fall, with the Colorado Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in both cases (determining the political shape of Colorado for the next decade) coming in early December (December 5thDecember 12th, respectively).

Colorado courts were also a central battlefield for Education policy, as one Denver District judge threw out Douglas County’s attempts to enable greater school choice, and another Denver District judge declared the state system of funding schools “unconscionable” while advancing the power of the courts to determine “proper” levels of school funding (despite the Constitution’s delegation of that power to the legislative branch) – although that decision is likely to be overturned after an expensive (and long) appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

In fact, 3 out of 4Top Colorado Political Stories of 2011” directly involve Colorado’s politicized judiciary (and the remainder, the voter rejection of tax increases at the ballot box, is juxtaposed against yet another court-approved tax increase the day before the vote):

  1. Redistricting/Reapportionment
  2. Failure of Prop 103
  3. Lobato decision
  4. Douglas County school vouchers

Cases such as Lobato – particularly Rappaport’s biased ruling – and the politicized nature of the court’s involvement in the congressional redistricting and state legislative reapportionment cases – highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering – let alone deciding – issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government.  Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government. Deciding issues of policy – instead of fairly and impartially upholding the law – is not it.

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.

Friday Funnies: …and a Leftist Judiciary! (reprise)

Welcome to the 2011 Christmas edition of the Clear The Bench Colorado Friday Funnies!

Another tumultuous year has come and gone for the Colorado judiciary – and once again, Colorado Citizens and taxpayers have been hammered by the gavels of Colorado judges pounding their personal preferences over the will of the people – and the rule of law.

Last year closed with Colorado being declared a “judicial hellhole” by a national judicial evaluation organization (one of only three state supreme courts nationwide to qualify for the “honor”, joining Michigan and perennial favorite West Virginia in being so recognized).  The 2011 legislative session failed in repealing all but two of 2010′s unconstitutional “Dirty Dozen” tax increases (facilitated by the Colorado Supreme Court) or the even more onerous 2009 “FASTER” Colorado Car Tax legislation (aided and abetted by yet another anti-constitutional ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority” enabling taxes to masquerade as “fees”), and even almost passed another tax increase (the “movie-ticket tax“) attempting to exploit the court’s creation of anti-TABOR “loopholes.”

Spring and Summer was dominated by legislative battles over congressional redistricting (sadly, the state senate reprised the 2000 playbook of abdicating responsibility to send it to the courts) and the Colorado Reapportionment Commission’s public hearings on re-setting the boundaries of our state legislative districts.  Both issues came to a head in court battles during the Fall, with the Colorado Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in both cases (determining the political shape of Colorado for the next decade) coming in early December (December 5th & December 12th, respectively).

Colorado courts were also a central battlefield for Education policy, as one Denver District judge threw out Douglas County’s attempts to enable greater school choice, and another Denver District judge declared the state system of funding schools “unconscionable” while advancing the power of the courts to determine “proper” levels of school funding (despite the Constitution’s delegation of that power to the legislative branch) – although that decision is likely to be overturned after an expensive – and long – appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Although remaining mindful that what’s at stake – holding our judiciary accountable for serial violations of our constitutional rights (to vote on taxes, even when taxes are called “fees”defend our property against unjust seizurebear arms in self-defense; and too many others to list) is serious business, all work and no play makes Matty a dull boy.

Although still awaiting payment a year later after “Colorado Ethics Watch” (CEW, pronounced “sue” – it’s what they do) was once again ordered to pay Clear The Bench Colorado thousands of $ in legal fees (owed since the judge’s original ruling in July found their complaint “frivolous, groundless, & vexatious”) brings a rueful chuckle, the following video (even if focused on the national level) elicited a hearty laugh:

…and a Leftist Judiciary!

While still afflicted with the (black-robed) ghosts of Christmas past in our Christmas present, we can still act to save our Christmas future. Continue to support Clear The Bench Colorado with comments (Sound Off!) and contributions. Freedom isn’t free – nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Friday Funnies: This Time, the Joke’s on all of You – Colorado’s Congressional and State Legislative District Maps

The long saga of Colorado’s Congressional redistricting and state legislative district reapportionment has been decided for the next decade by the Colorado Supreme Court in a pair of recent rulings (ruling to uphold Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt’s ruling on Congressional Redistricting December 5th, then ruling to uphold the Colorado Reapportionment Commission’s resubmitted state legislative district maps on December 12th).

Over a million Colorado citizens weren’t laughing when they discovered they’d been moved into new Congressional districts by court order, and even more Colorado voters didn’t get the joke when they were shuffled into new (and at times bizarrely formed) state legislative districts, either – contrary to the views expressed by countless individuals who’d testified at many hearings over 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) and contrary to the objections raised by numerous city and country governments filing legal challenges against the commission’s constitutionally suspect maps.

However, even in the aftermath of such tectonic shifts in Colorado’s political landscape, there’s some humor to be found – as illustrated by the following political cartoon, courtesy of Benjamin Hummel (creator of Politix Cartoons):

Redistricting

“Benjamin Hummel, the creator of Politix Cartoons, is the greatest conservative political cartoonist within a one mile radius of his studio in Golden, Colorado. Outside that, his work has been republished on several blogs, including JonCaldara.com, PoliticalLore.com and PARitzer.com. As a member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, his work has also been published in several textbooks and university handbooks across the nation, and his blog Politixcartoons.com has an international following.”

REFERENCE:

In response to numerous requests and for handy reference, links to Colorado’s Congressional District and state legislative district maps are posted below:

Congressional District map:

Congressional Districts-statewide

(DETAIL: the Denver Post has created a “find your congressional district” application)

State legislative district maps:

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.

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.

Colorado Supreme Court approves state legislative district maps resubmitted by Colorado Reapportionment Commission

The Colorado Supreme Court today approved the state legislative district maps re-submitted by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission last week (adopted in a procedurally suspect manner on a 6-5 party-line vote, with “unaffiliated” Chairman Mario Carrera joining the commission’s other Democrats).

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is surprising, since the court had previously rejected the commission’s earlier maps for constitutional deficiencies less stark than those exhibited by the commission’s re-submitted maps.

Given the constitutional deficiencies remaining in the Colorado Reapportionment Commission’s re-submitted maps, the procedural travesty by which the maps were adopted, and the availability of a more constitutionally-consistent alternative set of maps submitted as part of the ‘Minority Report’ appeal (which the majority commissioners had attempted to suppress), rejection of the commission’s maps – particularly given the court’s rejection of the commission’s previous set of constitutionally-deficient maps – appeared to be the only outcome consistent with constitutional and statutory criteria.

It will be interesting to analyze the reasoning by which a majority on the Colorado Supreme Court reached the conclusion that these maps were constitutionally valid once the court issues its full written opinion, which should follow within a week or so.

BOTTOM LINE:

The resubmitted maps retain a veritable plethora of constitutional deficiencies (in particular, failing to achieve the minimal splits in county lines, which was the primary rationale for the court’s rejection of the commission’s previous maps).  Municipal (city) splits were also multiplied, districts were not drawn to be as “compact and contiguous” as possible, and communities of interest were ignored or broken up. Additionally, the pairing of multiple incumbents into the same district raises additional constitutional issues – and one just-discovered “glitch” (”Glitch in new Colorado legislative map could unseat senator“) in the maps would result in “essentially airbrushing [State Senator Tim Neville] from the Senate after he serves next session.”

The ‘Minority Report’ challenge ably deconstructs the constitutional deficiencies of the commission’s re-submitted maps, and presents an alternative set of maps which better meet constitutional criteria (urging the adoption of the alternate maps by court order, per precedent established under similar circumstances several decades ago, as the best and most timely option).

The court’s decision is all the more surprising given the more centrist makeup of the current Colorado Supreme Court (following the departure of former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey and the more recent resignation of Justice Alex Martinez, replaced with Justices Monica Marquez and Brian Boatright, who just assumed his seat last week), and in the face of a set of legislative maps that were seemingly designed “out of spite” and apparently “calculated to antagonize the court.

Unfortunately, it is possible that politics trumped law in this highly-charged case.

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.

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.

Colorado Reapportionment Commission ‘Minority Report’ filed as challenge to legislative district maps in Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Reapportionment Commission (charged with drawing our state legislative districts) officially submitted state legislative district maps rammed through on a party-line vote last week (6-5, with technically unaffiliated Chairman Mario Carrera joining the commission’s other Democrats) to the Colorado Supreme Court for review late Monday (6 December).

The Colorado Supreme Court, upon receiving the commission’s resubmitted maps, quickly announced accelerated filing deadlines for the inevitable legal challenges to the maps, putting appeals on a very tight timeline.  A total of eighteen groups filed briefs by the 5:00PM Thursday deadline (exceeding the dozen briefs, including eleven challenges, filed against the commission’s previously submitted mapsmaps ultimately rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court for failure to meet Colorado’s constitutional requirements).

UPDATE:

The “minority” commissioners on the Colorado Reapportionment Commission – denied a fair procedural hearing and opportunity to discuss changes, submit amendments, or even file a dissenting ‘Minority Report’ (per standard practice in past commissions) as part of the commission’s official resubmission of state legislative district maps – filed their ‘Minority Report’ as a separate legal challenge to the “official” commission maps just prior to the filing deadline yesterday.

The fact that the commission’s minority was actually forced by the Democrat majority (including officially unaffiliated chairman Mario Carrera) to file their Statement of Opposition to the re-submitted maps as a legal challenge highlights the procedurally deficient path by which the maps were rammed through the commission, as well as remaining constitutional deficiencies in the re-submitted maps:

The intentional actions of the six-member majority created an irrevocably flawed process that led to adoption of unconstitutional maps

The commissioners’ ‘Minority Report’ filing also presents alternate maps for both House and Senate that better meet constitutional criteria and non-constitutional factors, including:

  • fewer county splits
  • fewer city splits
  • better preservation of communities of interest
  • better “competitiveness” (as a whole, and by district)
  • avoiding incumbent same-district pairings
  • avoiding unconstitutional sequencing of senate district elections

As a remedy to both the procedural failings of the commission’s adoption of the re-submitted maps, and the constitutional deficiencies of the maps themselves, the ‘Minority Report’ challenge urges the Colorado Supreme Court to adopt the alternate maps submitted as the most appropriate and timely remedy – for which there is precedent (“In re Reapportionment 1982, 647 P.2d 209, 213 (Colo. 1982).”)

Because the Court is not presented with plans that are “each consistent with the constitutional requirements,” it is not faced with a choice between alternative, competing maps.  Instead, because it is left with only one set of maps consistent with the constitutional criteria, a set drawn by members of the Commission, it is appropriate for the Court to [order] adoption of those alternate maps.

BOTTOM LINE:

The resubmitted maps retain a veritable plethora of constitutional deficiencies (in particular, failing to achieve the minimal splits in county lines, which was the primary rationale for the court’s rejection of the commission’s previous maps).  Municipal (city) splits were also multiplied, districts were not drawn to be as “compact and contiguous” as possible, and communities of interest were ignored or broken up. Additionally, the pairing of multiple incumbents into the same district raises additional constitutional issues – and one just-discovered “glitch” (”Glitch in new Colorado legislative map could unseat senator“) in the maps would result in “essentially airbrushing [State Senator Tim Neville] from the Senate after he serves next session.”

The ‘Minority Report’ challenge ably deconstructs the constitutional deficiencies of the commission’s re-submitted maps, and presents an alternative set of maps which better meet constitutional criteria (urging the adoption of the alternate maps by court order, per precedent established under similar circumstances several decades ago, as the best and most timely option).

Particularly given the more centrist makeup of the current Colorado Supreme Court (following the departure of former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey & the more recent resignation of Justice Alex Martinez, replaced with Justices Monica Marquez and Brian Boatright, who just assumed his seat last week), the court would seem likely to order the adoption of the more constitutionally-consistent ‘Minority Report’ map over the ratification of a set of legislative maps seemingly designed “out of spite” and apparently “calculated to antagonize the court.

In any event – we expect that the Colorado Supreme Court’s reply will not be long in waiting.

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.

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.

Colorado Reapportionment Commission legislative district maps draw challenges, supporters before Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Reapportionment Commission (charged with drawing our state legislative districts) officially submitted state legislative district maps rammed through on a party-line vote last week (6-5, with technically unaffiliated Chairman Mario Carrera joining the commission’s other Democrats) to the Colorado Supreme Court for review late Monday.

The Colorado Supreme Court, upon receiving the commission’s resubmitted maps, quickly announced accelerated filing deadlines for the inevitable legal challenges to the maps, putting appeals on a very tight timeline.  A total of eighteen groups filed briefs by the 5:00PM Thursday deadline (exceeding the dozen briefs, including eleven challenges, filed against the commission’s previously submitted mapsmaps ultimately rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court for failure to meet Colorado’s constitutional requirements).

Many of the same county and municipal governments that had challenged the commission’s previous maps did so again, on much the same grounds – emphasizing the repeated failure of the maps to meet the Colorado constitutional criteria of minimizing county and municipal splits, maintaining compact & contiguous districts, and preserving communities of interest. (Article V, Section 47)

Interestingly, a number of non-governmental special interest groups filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the commission’s maps – including representatives of the AFL-CIO, NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, Planned Parenthood, Mi Familia Vota & “New Era Colorado” (a Boulder-based “progressive” group).

No county or city governments filed amicus curiae briefs in favor of the commission’s maps (one county, Garfield County, filed a “does not oppose” brief)

Briefs filed in Response to 12/5/11 Plan Resubmission (Opposing):

Briefs filed in Response to 12/5/11 Plan Resubmission (Does Not Oppose):

Briefs filed in Response to 12/5/11 Plan Resubmission (Supporting):

Once receiving written briefs, the Colorado Supreme Court would normally schedule oral arguments; however, due to the extremely constrained timeline (by statute, final state legislative district maps are due to the Secretary of State for certification no later than next Wednesday, 14 December), the court could conceivably issue a decision based on the written briefs alone as early as Friday (9 December) or even over the weekend, in order to allow time for any necessary adjustments.

BOTTOM LINE:

The resubmitted maps retain a veritable plethora of constitutional deficiencies (in particular, failing to achieve the minimal splits in county lines, which was the primary rationale for the court’s rejection of the commission’s previous maps).  Municipal (city) splits were also multiplied, districts were not drawn to be as “compact and contiguous” as possible, and communities of interest were ignored or broken up. Additionally, the pairing of multiple incumbents into the same district raises additional constitutional issues – and one just-discovered “glitch” (”Glitch in new Colorado legislative map could unseat senator“) in the maps would result in “essentially airbrushing [State Senator Tim Neville] from the Senate after he serves next session.”

It would be absolutely inconsistent of a majority on the Colorado Supreme Court to approve the commission’s most recently resubmitted state legislative maps in light of these glaring constitutional deficiencies (not to mention the procedural farce by which these maps were rammed through the commission absent discussion, opportunity for amendments, public transparency, or even the inclusion of an official ‘Minority Report’ as has happened in the past).

Particularly given the more centrist makeup of the current Colorado Supreme Court (following the departure of former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey & the more recent resignation of Justice Alex Martinez, replaced with Justices Monica Marquez and Brian Boatright, who just assumed his seat last week), the commission’s approval of a set of legislative maps seemingly designed “out of spite” and apparently “calculated to antagonize the court” may succeed in making history.

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.

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.

Colorado Reapportionment Commission files new state legislative maps with Colorado Supreme Court; appeals on tight timeline

The Colorado Reapportionment Commission (charged with drawing our state legislative districts) officially submitted state legislative district maps rammed through on a party-line vote last week (6-5, with technically unaffiliated Chairman Mario Carrera joining the commission’s other Democrats) to the Colorado Supreme Court for review late Monday.

The Colorado Supreme Court, upon receiving the commission’s resubmitted maps, quickly announced filing deadlines for the inevitable legal challenges to the maps, proceeding this week on a very tight timeline (briefs are due to the court by this Thursday at 5PM):

Counsel and Parties to 11SA282 –  In Re Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly

The Reapportionment Commission has filed its Resubmitted Plan for Districts for the Senate and House of Representatives with the Court Today, December 5, 2011, in advance of the deadline set forth in the Court’s Order of November 15, 2011.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court has Ordered that the Simultaneous Briefs are now due from the Proponents and Objectors in this matter no later than Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 5:00 PM.  A copy of the order being mailed out today is attached for your perusal.

The court order was mailed out to each of the attorneys representing the eleven challenges to the commission’s previously submitted state legislative maps (the Colorado Supreme Court rejected the earlier maps and sent them back to the commission for a re-write).  Additional interested parties – either for or against the maps – may also “intervene” by filing briefs before the deadline as well.

Once receiving written briefs, the Colorado Supreme Court would normally schedule oral arguments; however, due to the extremely constrained timeline (by statute, final state legislative district maps are due to the Secretary of State for certification no later than next Wednesday, 14 December), the court could conceivably issue a decision based on the written briefs as early as Friday (9 December) or even over the weekend, in order to allow time for any necessary adjustments.

BOTTOM LINE:

The resubmitted maps retain a veritable plethora of constitutional deficiencies (in particular, failing to achieve the minimal splits in county lines, which was the primary rationale for the court’s rejection of the commission’s previous maps).  Municipal (city) splits were also multiplied, districts were not drawn to be as “compact and contiguous” as possible, and communities of interest were ignored or broken up. Additionally, the pairing of multiple incumbents into the same district raises additional constitutional issues – and one just-discovered “glitch” (“Glitch in new Colorado legislative map could unseat senator“) in the maps would result in “essentially airbrushing [State Senator Tim Neville] from the Senate after he serves next session.”

It would be absolutely inconsistent of a majority on the Colorado Supreme Court to approve the commission’s most recently resubmitted state legislative maps in light of these glaring constitutional deficiencies (not to mention the procedural farce by which these maps were rammed through the commission absent discussion, opportunity for amendments, public transparency, or even the inclusion of an official ‘Minority Report’ as has happened in the past).

Particularly given the more centrist makeup of the current Colorado Supreme Court (following the departure of former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey & the more recent resignation of Justice Alex Martinez, replaced with Justices Monica Marquez and Brian Boatright, who just assumed his seat last week), the commission’s approval of a set of legislative maps seemingly designed “out of spite” and apparently “calculated to antagonize the court” may succeed in making history.

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.

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.

Colorado Supreme Court upholds Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt’s ruling on Colorado Congressional Redistricting

In a surprisingly rapid decision following last Thursday’s oral arguments in challenges to a Democrat-drawn Congressional Redistricting map previously approved by Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt, the Colorado Supreme Court announced in a court order issued Monday morning (5 December) that it affirmed Hyatt’s ruling in the lower court and the ‘Moreno South Map’ establishes the boundaries of Colorado’s Congressional districts for the next decade.

(Link for Colorado Supreme Court order affirming the Denver court’s ruling and Moreno Map)

democrat-statewide-20111031-crop

(New Democrat redistricting map – statewide)

(UPDATE: the Denver Post has created a “find your congressional district” application)

The Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling, although disappointing to Colorado Republicans (particularly the residents of Douglas and Larimer counties) hardly comes as a surprise – Colorado Democrats carefully prepared the conditions for their victory on Congressional Redistricting as part of a long-standing strategy of sending the decision to the courts, where they have traditionally enjoyed a friendly venue.

Even before reprising the 2000 legislative session playbook by blocking passage of (constitutionally required) Congressional Redistricting legislation in the Colorado state senate, the more strategically-savvy Democrat leadership set the conditions for their eventual court victory by enabling judicial consideration of “non-neutral” political factors (and removing guidelines establishing a hierarchy of neutral criteria) in the  “Mary-mandering” legislation passed at the close of the 2010 legislative session – allowing Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt room for extensive discretion (i.e. exercising his own personal preferences) in ruling for the ‘Moreno Map’:

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)

Despite having copious advance notice of Democrat intentions in regard to Congressional Redistricting strategy, Republican “leadership” was caught flat-footed and “steamrollered” in the courts:

Republicans may not even be able to decry the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling as purely partisan (contrasting with the situation in the 2003 Salazar v. Davidson congressional redistricting case) or an example of unmitigated judicial activism, since the statutory changes (enabling consideration of purely political factors by the courts) and selective use of testimony may have provided sufficient legal “cover” for the court’s ruling majority to affirm the lower court’s ruling – aside from that pesky constitutional provision (Article V, Section 44) mandating Congressional Redistricting as a legislative, not judicial, responsibility in the first place.

Final judgment on the legal merits of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in this case (along with knowing the vote count) will have to wait, pending release and review of the actual written ruling (expected in the coming weeks).

In any event, the boundaries of Colorado’s Congressional districts are now set for the next decade – there is no further appeal from the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in this case.

Irrespective of one’s preferences on the congressional district maps, the negative repercussions of manipulating the redistricting process to impose an outcome via the courts are severely damaging to public confidence in our institutions of state government – both legislative and judicial.  Legislative abdication of constitutionally-mandated responsibilities reinforces public perception of politicians as feckless and irresponsible (not without reason).

Perhaps more importantly, the 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.

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.

CTBC Analysis of Oral Arguments in Congressional Redistricting appeal before Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court held oral arguments yesterday (Thursday, 1 December) on a challenge to Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt’s ruling in the Colorado Congressional redistricting trial.  The appeal, led by Douglas County and joined by the Republican petitioners (one from each of the state’s seven congressional districts) in the original case, was held in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the Colorado Capitol, 200 E. Colfax Avenue, Denver 80203

Thursday’s oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court, in which each side had 30 minutes to make their case, were recorded and posted online shortly after the hearing.

Unlike the challenges to the state legislative district maps (which resulted in the maps being rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court and remanded back to the Colorado Reapportionment Commission), which revolved around clear and straightforward constitutional criteria, the arguments in the Congressional Redistricting case dealt with much more esoteric issues of case precedent & standards of legal review, making a prediction of the outcome much less certain.

democrat-statewide-20111031-crop

(New Democrat redistricting map – statewide)

Opponents (challenging the “Moreno Map” approved by Judge Hyatt) went first.

Attorney Richard Westfall (representing the Hall plaintiffs – the Republican parties to the original case) opened by stating “the crux of this appeal is whether the trial court is free to disregard decades of precedent in amending congressional districts this cycle.”  He outlined the basis for the appeal on two main points:

  1. It was ‘manifestly unreasonable’ for the trial court to ignore existing ‘communities of interest’ regarding Douglas and Larimer counties
  2. When a court draws congressional districts, there are judicial standards that should be followed – and when they are not, a ‘de novo review’ of the record is required

Westfall then addressed the disparate application of “agricultural communities of interest” in the case of Douglas and Larimer counties – held by the trial court to be paramount in tying Douglas, yet negligible in linking Larimer, to the Eastern Plains congressional district, CD4 (long established in case law as the “Eastern agricultural” district for the state).  He highlighted Larimer’s status as an agricultural production center (the 10th largest in the state, with $128M in agricultural production, contrasted with Douglas County’s mere $16M) and close ties with ‘similar’ neighboring Weld County as strong evidence for Larimer’s continuing “community of interest” with CD4.  Westfall also raised the “absolute inconsistency in application” of the standard of oil & gas exploration as a “community of interest” binding Douglas County (with “zero” oil & gas permits issued in 2010) to CD4 while ignoring existing oil & gas exploration efforts in Larimer County.

Questions put to Westfall by the Colorado Supreme Court justices raised the issue of competing ‘communities of interest’ (Chief Justice Bender asked,”why is it so unreasonable that beetlekill, and the universities” don’t establish a “community of interest” between Boulder and Larimer counties?)

Other questions addressed the ‘standard of review’ for the Colorado Supreme Court to apply in reviewing the lower court’s ruling (Justice Monica Marquez asked regarding standards of review, “was the trial court decision supported by the record?” and raised the issue of how to apply judicial standards vs. statutory standards, and discretion in applying standards).

Attorney Kelly Dunnaway, representing the Douglas County plaintiffs, added more information about the “communities of interest” applying to Douglas County – as perceived by the county government and majority of county residents.  He highlighted the fact that transportation, jobs, water compacts, membership in regional government organizations (including RTD, the stadium district and DRCOG, the Denver Regional Council of Governments) and tax-sharing agreements all tied Douglas County to the Denver metro suburban area and NOT to the Eastern Plains.  He pointed out the “manifestly arbitrary” nature of the trial court’s selection of evidence to put Douglas County in CD4 – noting that the trial court “invented communities of interest that don’t really exist in order to support the order.”

Questions to Dunnaway also addressed the issues of standards of review and findings of fact in the trial court’s order.  Justice Rice asked if the standard of review is to “look for absence of information in the court order;” Chief Justice Bender asked if there was “insufficient data to support findings of fact” in the trial court ruling (Dunnaway: “absolutely”) or if there was “sufficient evidence to support the conclusion” reached by the trial court (Dunnaway: it was arbitrary to not consider Douglas County’s evidence and testimony, “ignoring wishes of residents in both [Douglas and Larimer] counties”).  Justice Marquez noted that “we need to look at this map as a whole… there are always competing interests” (Dunnaway: the standard is whether the decision was “manifestly unreasonable” – noting that not only were Douglas and Larimer counties impacted but “1.4 Million people in Colorado were reassigned to different congressional districts under the ‘Moreno Map’ – over a third of Colorado residents, without ‘compelling reason,’ concluding that it is “manifestly unreasonable to disenfranchise 1.4 Million people”).

Proponents for the ‘Moreno Map’ were represented by Democrat Party attorney Mark Grueskin (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 counter the Clear The Bench Colorado judicial accountability efforts during the 2010 judicial retention vote).

Grueskin opened by noting that the Colorado General Assembly had failed to pass congressional redistricting legislation 4 times in the past 30 years – resulting in 3 judicial redistricting decisions.  He asserted that the Moreno Map created “appropriate districts to ensure fair representation.”

Grueskin’s opening statement drew an immediate question from Justice Marquez – noting that “part of this notion of effective representation hinges in some part on stability of districts, in part to establish that identity over time.”  Each congressional district “conjures in my mind a certain image…”

Is it really appropriate every 10 years to just completely wipe the slate clean? How does your map honor minimizing disruption of districts?

Grueskin responded that although it’s appropriate to “recognize stability”… it doesn’t trump other criteria.  He asserted that issues and “communities of interest” do change, and that the judicial process is an appropriate venue for assessing what is “put into evidence” in order to establish congressional districts, and argued that it is “counterintuitive… that districts are set in stone.”

Chief Justice Bender then asked Grueskin to address the main points of the opponents’ argument (1. disagreement on standard of review, and 2. taking Douglas and Larimer counties out of current districts was ‘unfair’) – “what are the facts supporting [Hyatt's] decision?”

Grueskin argued that “evidence linking Boulder and Larimer counties is strong” – citing “expert testimony” that the demographics of Boulder and Larimer counties are “virtually identical” while the demographics of Larimer and the Eastern Plains are “exceedingly different.”  He noted many common employment industries in both counties, while noting that the percentage of residents actually employed in agriculture in Larimer is not large.

Grueskin noted that the “standard of review” issue is important, while maintaining that the issue of what is open to ‘de novo review’ is very limited.

Finally, the attorney for Aurora expressed support for the ‘Moreno Map’ in keeping Aurora wholly within a single congressional district, citing previous case law supporting keeping the city intact as a “community of interest” that had previously been trumped by other factors.  He did note, however, the close ties of Aurora to Douglas and Elbert counties as a provider of water resources (which one might think would be an argument for maintaining Aurora in a “community of interest” with those counties).

Interestingly, neither side brought up the disputed notion of “competitiveness” as a basis for defining congressional district boundaries, cited by Judge Hyatt in support of his decision to split some counties (Douglas, Adams, Arapahoe, and Eagle) and not others. (Ruling at 43)

Bottom Line:

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in the appeal of the trial court’s congressional redistricting ruling is likely to come down to the ‘standards of review’ issue: was the trial court “manifestly unreasonable” in defining districts and did it “inconsistently apply” standards for ‘communities of interest’ in assigning counties to congressional districts?

The extent of judicial discretion exercised by Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt (in selecting evidence and applying statutory criteria) is also likely to factor in the court’s ruling.  Thanks to the “Mary-Mandering” bill passed in the waning days of the 2010 legislative session, the judge could pick & choose criteria including “non-neutral” political factors according to his personal preference.

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)

Quo Vadis?

Although “reading the tea leaves” in such a complex and highly political case is fraught with danger, based on the arguments presented, questions posed by the Colorado Supreme Court justices, and in light of relevant case law precedent and Colorado statutory requirements (see below), Clear The Bench Colorado can discern some indicators on the eventual outcome:

  • Justices Bender and Rice (the remaining members of the “Mullarkey Majority”) will almost certainly vote to uphold the Moreno map (based on past ‘performance’ and questions asked)
  • Justices Eid and Boatright (the Colorado Supreme Court’s newest member) appeared skeptical that the trial court consistently applied standards and considered existing “communities of interest” and relevant case law; they appear disposed to reject the map
  • Justice Coats asked no questions during oral argument; he trends “conservative” and dissented in the judicial usurpation of legislative redistricting authority in the 2003 redistricting case (Salazar v. Davidson), and tends to support case law precedent (which would support maintaining traditional “communities of interest” & minimizing disruption).  Leans reject.
  • Justice Hobbs appeared to accept proponents’ arguments that competing “communities of interest” had been considered by the trial court, and that on balance the evidence was sufficient to support Hyatt’s ruling; leans uphold.
  • Justice Marquez asked the most incisive and relevant questions at oral argument.  Although it’s not clear how she might eventually decide, it is clear that she is possessed of a sharp legal mind and appears disposed to rule on the merits of the evidence and legal criteria applicable to the case.
  • CTBC predicts that the Colorado Supreme Court will almost certainly issue a split decision, most probably ending on a 4-3 vote (with Justice Marquez the most likely deciding vote). Based on available evidence, it’s impossible to predict which way it will go – but given the urgency of reaching a decision, we’ll see a ruling from the court next week.


Congressional District Google Earth maps (requires Google Earth download): Moreno/South Map (Google Earth)

Statutory Criteria governing Congressional Redistricting:

2-1-102. Neutral criteria for judicial determinations of congressional districts.
(1) In determining whether one or more of the congressional districts established in section 2-1-101 are lawful and in adopting or enforcing any change to any such district, courts:

(a) Shall utilize the following factors:

(I) A good faith effort to achieve precise mathematical population equality between districts, justifying each variance, no matter how small, as required by the constitution of the United States. Each district shall consist of contiguous whole general election precincts. Districts shall not overlap.
(II) Compliance with the federal “Voting Rights Act of 1965″, in particular 42 U.S.C. sec. 1973; and

(b) May, without weight to any factor, utilize factors including but 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 as prescribed 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.


Additional references:

  • Constitutional Provisions Controlling Reapportionment/Redistricting (state website listing relevant legal language on Congressional redistricting & 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)

Colorado Supreme Court holds oral arguments on appeal of Denver District Court ruling on Congressional Redistricting

The Colorado Supreme Court holds oral arguments today (Thursday, 1 December) on a challenge to Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt’s ruling on Colorado Congressional redistricting.  The appeal, led by Douglas County and joined by the Republican petitioners (one from each of the state’s seven congressional districts) in the original case, is proceeding on an accelerated schedule starting at 11:15 AM in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the Colorado Capitol, 200 E. Colfax Avenue, Second Floor, Denver 80203

Today’s oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court, in which each side will have 30 minutes to make their case, will be recorded and posted online shortly after the hearing.

Arguments in the case are likely to revolve around the issue of whether the lower court properly adhered to Colorado constitutional and statutory guidelines governing redistricting, in particular the requirement to maintain county integrity where possible

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)

and “preservation of political subdivisions such as counties, cities, and towns.” [C.R.S. 2-1-102(1)(b)]

Douglas County is also challenging Judge Hyatt’s assertion that Douglas County is more properly within a “community of interest” with the Eastern Plains (putting Castle Rock and Park Meadows shopping mall in the same district as Wray, Burlington, and Lamar).  [Ed. an observer wryly noted that Douglas County doesn't even have a Burlington Coat Factory location, much less strong 'agricultural' ties to the plains]

Finally, petitioners are likely to challenge the notion of “competitiveness” as a basis for defining congressional district boundaries, cited by Judge Hyatt in support of his decision to split some counties (Douglas, Adams, Arapahoe, and Eagle) and not others. (Ruling at 43)

It must be noted that ”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.

Given the Colorado Supreme Court’s rejection of “competitiveness” as a factor taking precedent over clear constitutional and statutory guidelines in remanding state legislative district maps back to the Colorado Reapportionment Commission for corrections and revisions, it would be utterly inconsistent of the court to reject “competitiveness” as a primary factor in state legislative redistricting while upholding the notion for Colorado’s Congressional districts.

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.

Congressional District Google Earth maps (requires Google Earth download): Moreno/South Map (Google Earth)

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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