NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Less than 50 days away from New Mexico’s first election under newly drawn voting districts, the state’s highest court is now being asked to consider a lawsuit over the fairness of those boundaries. The request is the latest chapter in the New Mexico’s Republican Party’s claim that the state’s new congressional districts unfairly favor the opposing party.
The original lawsuit was filed in a New Mexico district court back in January. Now, the state’s Court of Appeals is asking the state’s Supreme Court to consider the case, according to a filing made last Friday.
The lawsuit alleges the new district maps, which were approved by Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, “accomplish a political gerrymander that unconstitutionally dilutes the votes of the residents of southeastern New Mexico.” Every 10 years, the state redraws its political lines in a process called redistricting.
The idea is to keep New Mexico’s voting districts maintain fair populations as residents move and populations change. New Mexico’s three congressional districts saw sizeable changes in their boundaries through redistricting.
The southeast part of the state saw some of the biggest shifts in voting boundaries, which now stretch through Albuquerque’s South Valley and westside. Those areas used to be part of the Central New Mexico focused district 1. With the shift, data indicates far more Democrats have been drawn into district 2, a district that has only been out of Republican control four years out of the last 42 years.
In 2021, the state’s first independent redistricting committee was tasked with coming up with several new map proposals which the state’s Legislature and Governor would then consider. The committee took public input from around the state and submitted a handful of proposed maps last December.
The Democratically controlled Legislature rejected the committee’s proposed map of congressional districts and instead voted for a differing map of congressional districts, which Governor ultimately approved. The lawsuit alleges that the result is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.
Nor shall any person be denied equal protection of lawEqual Protection Clause of the NM Constitution
For months, lawyers worked over the claims in the lawsuit. In April, District Judge Fred Van Soelen wrote that the plaintiffs (I.e. the Republican Party) “makes a strong, well developed case” that the map doesn’t follow traditional redistricting principles and the judge denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
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The map approved by Democratic legislators doesn’t match any of the three committee-adopted maps. Graphic by Curtis Segarra for KRQE News 13.
In July, the Democratic defendants asked for a pause on the legal proceedings after asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to weigh in. In essence, they asked the Supreme Court to decide whether or not gerrymandering is something that can be the subject of a trial under the state’s Constitution. They have also asked the Supreme Court to consider appealing the denied motion to dismiss.
The Supreme Court has not yet announced that they will consider the case, but New Mexico’s Secretary of State urged the court to move forward. Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver is listed as a defendant on the suit, but claims that she’s “not directly involved.” In a recent Supreme Court filing, she said the Supreme Court should hold a hearing on the case to “bring clarity to the election administration and preserve the election franchise.”
Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court moves forward on the issue, the lawsuit is unlikely to cause a change in voting districts before this November. In April, Judge Van Soelen noted that the last day changes could be submitted and made to ballots was April 23, 2022.