NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – With less than a month until New Mexico’s first election under newly drawn voting districts, the state’s highest court is stepping in to try to decide whether or not partisan gerrymandering is an issue that can be resolved under the New Mexico Constitution. It’s the latest development following a lawsuit over the fairness of New Mexico’s new voting boundaries. But the Supreme Court’s ruling will arrive too late to impact the 2022 vote.

The legal battle over the state’s political maps began earlier this year, in January. A lawsuit filed in district court by New Mexico’s Republican Party alleges that the state’s newest political maps “accomplish a political gerrymander that unconstitutionally dilutes the votes of the residents of southeastern New Mexico.”

The boundaries drawn within the maps are the basis for setting which political races New Mexico residents are eligible to vote for. The “redistricted” maps were ultimately created by the Democratically controlled Legislature and approved by Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, even after the state ventured into its first independent Citizen Redistricting Committee.

Redistricting, or the process of redrawing political boundaries happens every 10 years. The general idea is to maintain fair populations across the state’s voting districts, so that each vote has an equal amount of weight when cast. The maps currently being challenged brought a range of changes, including sizable changes to the state’s three congressional districts.

As mentioned earlier, the state created an independent (i.e. not made of current legislators) redistricting committee to come up with the new maps. That committee heard input from locals across the state before presenting several options to lawmakers.

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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.

The legislators rejected the proposed maps and instead created their own. Those maps are now being challenged. The Republican Party of New Mexico claims that the legislature’s process and decisions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.

Nor shall any person be denied equal protection of law

Equal Protection Clause of the NM Constitution

Since the challenge was filed, Lujan Grisham and other defendants have asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to weigh in. In essence, they’ve asked the state’s highest court to decide whether or not someone can challenge redrawn voting districts on the basis of gerrymandering under the state’s constitution.

Now, in an order released Friday, the Supreme Court says it will consider the issue. The order puts the original district court case brought by the Republican Party of New Mexico on hold.

On January 9, 2023, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding the issue. While there’s no set time for when the justices will make a ruling, in the past, these sorts of expedited issues have resulted in rulings almost immediately after the court hears arguments.

But given the timeline, it’s clear that nothing will be decided in time to affect the 2022 midterm election vote in November. That’s been the case since at least April, when District Judge Fred Van Soelen noted that the last day changes could be submitted and made to ballots was April 23, 2022.

New Mexico’s last two round of redistricting in 2011 and 2001 also ended up in court. In both cases, the process is said to have cost the state millions of dollars.