For Immediate Release
July 16, 2003
Brennan Center For Justice Files Brief Opposing Controversial Re-Redistricting In Colorado
On July 16, 2003, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed a brief in the Colorado Supreme Court. The Brennan Center is weighing in on a redistricting case that pits the states Attorney General against its Secretary of State and General Assembly. The Brennan Center filed the amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief with the assistance of outside counsel at the firm of OMelveny and Myers in Washington, DC.
The case arises from the controversial re-redistricting of Colorado after the Republican Party gained majorities in both houses of the legislature and also held the governorship in 2003. New districts were drawn by a court when the legislature failed to agree on a new map following the 2000 census. Those districts had been approved by the states Supreme Court and used in the 2002 elections, but the new Republican majority redrew the map to transform a competitive district into a safe Republican seat.
In normal redistricting every decade after the census, the parties at least pay lip service to the idea that goals other than partisan advantage and incumbent protection are taken into account, said J.J. Gass, a Brennan Center lawyer. But in this extraordinary mid-decade re-redistricting, the legislative leadership has boasted that giving one partys candidates an advantage was the only goal.
The Brennan Centers brief argues that re-redistricting for the sole purpose of gaining partisan advantage violates both the Colorado and federal Constitutions. By deliberately making it more difficult for some voters than others to elect their chosen candidates, the brief contends, the legislature violated the rights of the disadvantaged voters to express their political opinions through voting and to enjoy the equal protection of the laws. The re-redistricting scheme also breaches the states constitutional obligation to provide a republican form of government and exceeds the states authority under the federal Constitution to regulate the Times, Places, and Manner of congressional elections.
Although Republicans gerrymandered the districts to eliminate competitive races in Colorado, in other states Democrat-controlled legislatures have also tried to create the maximum possible number of safe seats for their allies. As a result, more than 80% of House of Representatives elections were won by margins of more than 20% in 2002, and only four out of 386 incumbents lost against non-incumbent challengers. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue, said Gass. This is about whether Congress is elected by the voters or selected by politicians and their redistricting consultants.
This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a partisan gerrymandering case arising from Pennsylvanias regular redistricting. We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will lay down strong rules restricting the parties ability to rig elections a decade at a time, said Gass. But whatever the rules are for regular redistricting, the Colorado re-redistricting is such an extreme case of discrimination against a group of voters on the basis of their political opinions that it clearly should be struck down.