In a legal brief filed late but accepted by the court Tuesday, GOP attorneys also criticized the panel’s configuration of some voting districts — comparing the shape of one Senate district to a “tall palm tree” — and argued that the maps created by the three special masters “unfairly prejudice the Republican Party in violation of the principles of representational fairness.”
Monday was the deadline for Democrats, Republicans and others to respond to voting maps proposed by three special masters appointed by District Judge James Todd Russell to finish the job lawmakers couldn’t.
Nevada Democrats, in their response filed Monday, said they had “no substantive objections” to the draft maps to realign the state’s voting districts.
A court hearing on the redistricting proposal will be Thursday in Carson City.
Russell appointed the three special masters — Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets, Carson City Recorder Alan Glover and former Legislative Counsel Bureau staffer Robert Erickson — to oversee the redrawing of Nevada’s voting districts after two plans approved by the Democrat-controlled Legislature were vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The Republican governor said the plans amounted to partisan gerrymandering and violated the Voting Rights Act in the way it distributed minorities.
Maps proposed by Republican lawmakers were never brought to a vote. Sandoval refused to call lawmakers into special session to resolve the issue, sending the matter to court.
During legislative hearings and subsequent court proceedings, Republicans argued that Nevada’s booming Hispanic population, which now accounts for a quarter of state residents, requires one congressional district be comprised of a Hispanic majority. Democrats countered that amounted to “packing” and would dilute Hispanic influence in other voting districts.
The panel said in its report that it didn’t find enough evidence to justify a Hispanic-majority district. “No particular minority group was sufficiently and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single member district,” the panel said.
The Republican response filed by attorney Mark Hutchison said if the court accepts the special masters’ findings, “then the matter is closed.” But if the judge agrees that the finding was “clearly erroneous, and that one or more majority-minority districts should have been drawn,” Hutchsion proposed the court adopt GOP maps that “create appropriate majority-minority districts.”
Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years based on Census data. Nevada gained a fourth congressional seat following the 2010 Census, and must carve out its boundaries from the existing three.
A former rural lawmaker and the Eureka County Commission also filed objections to the plan, saying the maps would dilute rural interests. Alex Garza of Las Vegas filed an objection against the lack of a Hispanic majority congressional district.
The League of Women Voters, an intervener in the case, filed its recommended congressional district maps with the Nevada Supreme Court, which scheduled a Nov. 14 hearing on challenges raised by Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller over Russell’s handling of the matter.
Regarding the congressional districts, Hutchison said the special masters’ proposal to essentially split Nevada’s sprawling and largely rural 2nd Congressional District in two is “legally appropriate” if the court rejects the argument that Hispanics are entitled to a majority district.
In that case, he said, the proposed congressional districts “should not be changed simply for either party’s preferences.”
But the GOP took exception to the proposed boundaries carved out for Senate District 8, held by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.
“While all the other districts are reasonable circular or rectangular, Sen. Cegavske’s district literally gets an F for its shape,” Hutchison wrote. He said it resembled “a tall palm tree with long branching arms” encompassing diverse neighborhoods, from suburban golfing communities to urban dwellers.
The brief also said under the special masters’ plan, Senate District 9 held by freshman Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, would lean heavily Democratic and amount to her “judicial ouster” when she faces re-election in 2014.
Likewise, the GOP said Senate District 6, once a traditional Republican seat now held by Democratic Sen. Allison Copening, would shift to the Democrats’ favor.
“In short, the special masters’ plans take what once were two competitive seats and turn them strongly Democratic and wholly non-competitive,” the GOP brief said.
It urged that the court modify the proposed maps “and redraw them to embrace the politically cohesive communities of interest identified by the Republican caucus during the legislative session.”