Michael Carrigan

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)
Moreno Map statewide

Moreno Map statewide

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
Moreno Map metro magnified

Moreno Map metro magnified

(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.

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.

In Review: Colorado Congressional Redistricting Trial

The legal battle to re-draw the boundaries of Colorado’s Congressional Districts - sent to the courts for the fourth consecutive decade at the end of the legislative session in May 2011 after the legislature (specifically the state senate) failed to do its job by passing redistricting legislation as required by the Colorado Constitution – concluded trial proceedings in Denver District Court today (Monday, Halloween Day) with closing statements and the introduction of new and revised Congressional District maps.

democrat-statewide-20111031-crop

(New Democrat redistricting map – statewide)

Sitting through the hearings and witness statements is admittedly dry stuff, with topics ranging from pine beetles and educational funding (which Democrat attorney Mark Grueskin claimed is what ties Boulder and Larimer counties together into a common “community of interest”) to water and agriculture issues (which Democrat attorney Mark Grueskin claimed were issues tying Douglas County and the Eastern Plains together into a common “community of interest”), and transportation funding (which witnesses from Douglas County – including County Commissioner Jill Repella and county lobbyist Ken Butler – advanced as evidence of common ties between Douglas and the other Denver Metro counties).

Witnesses at the Congressional Redistricting trial included a “Who’s Who” of the Colorado political scene – including over half of Colorado’s Congressional Delegation (CD2 Congressman Jared Polis, CD3 Congressman Scott Tipton, CD6 Representative Mike Coffman, and CD7 Representative Ed Perlmutter) along with other political luminaries such as CU Regent Michael Carrigan (D-Denver/CD1) (just re-elected in 2010) and former director of the Department of Higher Education Rico Munn (for the Democrats) and former Deputy Treasurer Dick Murphy and former state representative candidate (and current Denver County GOP Chair) Danny Stroud (for the Republicans).

As might be expected with so much at stake, the attorneys participating in the trial were also a “Who’s Who” of the state’s legal profession: Democrats were represented by a team headed by perennial political litigator 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 counteract the Clear The Bench Colorado judicial accountability efforts during the 2010 judicial retention elections); Republicans were represented by a team led by former Colorado Solicitor General Richard Westfall (who also contested the constitutionality of the Colorado “Mill Levy Tax Freeze” case, first successfully in Denver District Court in May 2008 before being overturned in a highly political decision by the Colorado Supreme Court in March 2009); the Colorado Latino Forum, which introduced a separate set of maps, was represented by Gina Rodriguez; and the City of Aurora, which intervened in the case in order to carve out an Aurora-centric district (keeping the city, although split between multiple counties, in a single congressional district) was represented by former state senator and CD7 candidate Mike Feeley (apparently taking a break from his participation in the “Fenster’s Folly” anti-TABOR lawsuit pursued against the state of Colorado in federal court).  A wag reportedly opined that the sum of billable hours over the several weeks of the Congressional Redistricting trial could feed, clothe, and bathe the “Occupy Denver” crowd for a year…

Media coverage of the trial ranged from the trivial (Denver Post Lynn Bartels tweeting about former Congressman Bob Beauprez having the zipper down on his jeans) to the mildly humorous (comments on repeatedly spilled water and “a huge, industrial-size roll of paper towels” along with Democrat attorney Mark Grueskin’s characterization of the GOP “Minimum Disruption” map as a “light-jazz band”) to the occasionally informative (a background piece on presiding Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt, “Colorado redistricting judge unafraid to issue controverial decisions“).

An interesting sideline to the overall Colorado Congressional Redistricting narrative was provided by the shifting fortunes of state senator Brandon Shaffer, running for Congress in CD4 in 2012, as district maps submitted by his own party first drew him out of, then later back within, the boundaries of the district (prompting him to submit his own map) – as chronicled in a series of article in the Colorado Peak Politics political website:

(NOTE: although residency within the district is not a requirement to run for Congress, it is certainly a political disadvantage to live outside the district one is seeking to represent)

The main themes of the Congressional Redistricting trial, however, were attempts by all parties to argue the constitutionality of the various map proposals.  All parties acknowledged the federal and state constitutional requirements in general terms, but sought to emphasize different aspects in making their case.  All sides attempted to define “communities of interest” via witness testimony (or refute the commonality of interests claimed by the other side during cross-examination).

For example, Democrat witnesses Michael Carrigan and Rico Munn advocated for combining Boulder and Larimer counties as a single “community of interest” based on the presence of Colorado’s two largest institutions of higher education in each (CU in Boulder, CSU in Fort Collins).  GOP witness Dick Murphy countered that the cultural differences between the two schools – to say nothing of the two counties – diverged sharply between “liberal” CU/Boulder and more traditionally rural/conservative CSU/Fort Collins.  (Ed.: Plus, how could a combined district deal with a candidate unable to take a stand on football matchups between the two universities, or alienating half the district?)  GOP attorney Westfall also pointed out that both CU and CSU have multiple campuses around the state, and that multiple institutions of higher education exist around the state in different congressional districts, eliminating any unique claim to a “Higher Ed” community of interest centered around Boulder and Larimer counties.

Bottom Line?

The GOP argument (as well as the title of the map proposal) centered around the theme that voters should suffer “minimal disruption” to their current congressional representation.  GOP attorneys emphasized the “clear legal guidelines” and precedents (including the rightly-maligned 2003 Salazar v. Davidson case when the Mullarkey Court usurped the legislative role in redistricting – a responsibility willingly abdicated by the legislature this year) binding upon the court.

The City of Aurora sought to be contained whole within a single congressional district (despite being split between counties, which enjoy a higher constitutional precedence for remaining intact than municipalities).  Interestingly, both the modified Democrat and Republican maps appear to have accepted this premise.

The Colorado Latino Forum maps were roundly panned by all sides – the original maps (which paired Scott Tipton and Ed Perlmutter in a single district, ranging from Cortez to Lakewood) were criticized both by Republicans:

“When I saw that I thought, ‘They can’t possibly be serious,’ ” said state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. “We had public testimony earlier this year against this kind of proposal.”

as well as by Democrats (even after modifications to the original maps):

When a map is driven by the issue of race, whatever the race, it becomes suspect.” (Democrat attorney Mark Grueskin)

(The Latino Forum’s lawyer returned the favor, “ripping” both Republican and Democrat maps)

The Democrat argument sought to create or define new “communities of interest” but most prominently promoted the principle of “competitiveness” as a basis for determining district boundaries.  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”) – even notwithstanding 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 question of redistricting to the courts all along (instead of being resolved in the legislature, as mandated by the Colorado Constitution, Article V Section 44,

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.

Judge Hyatt, who has a reputation as being hardworking, independent-minded and well-versed in the law, is not expected to take long to reach a decision – and may have already reached some conclusions on the merits of the arguments advanced during trial, as indicated by an aside uttered casually during the second week of the trial, stating (and this may be more a paraphrase than a precise quote)
“Is there anything being presented here as testimony that is likely to influence my decision?”

In any event, all parties have indicated that whatever the outcome, the case is almost certain to be appealed to – and ultimately decided by – the Colorado Supreme 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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