Alaska Supreme Court strikes down GOP-friendly gerrymander, orders new map for 2022
And Dunleavy gets a running mate.
Good morning, Alaska!
In this edition: The Alaska Supreme Court didn’t need to hear oral arguments to find the Alaska Redistricting Board once again committed an unconstitutional political gerrymander that favored one group (Eagle River Republicans) over another group (everyone else). With the filing deadline just a week away, the Alaska Supreme Court also agree with the lower court’s decision to order the court to implement a specific alternative rather than allow the board to continue to get creative, meaning it should be the last major redistricting decision for this year’s elections! I’ll also take a look at the board’s shaky legal foundation and the political impact. Also, speaking of elections, Gov. Mike Dunleavy finally has selected a running mate: Now-former Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom.
Current mood: 😌
Supreme Court: It’s a gerrymander, again
The Alaska Supreme Court didn’t need to hear oral arguments in the Alaska Redistricting Board’s second appearance before them to find the board “again engaged in unconstitutional political gerrymandering to increase one group’s voting power at the expense of others.”
The order affirms the ruling issued by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews last week that found the board’s decision to split Eagle River was an intentional effort by the board’s Republican members to boost Republican advantage in the Anchorage-area Senate races. It also affirms Judge Matthews’ decision to order the board to adopt a specific alternative, finding there’s no reasonable alternatives to approve ahead of the June 1 filing deadline for the 2022 elections.
“The board presumably believed option 2 fulfilled constitutional requirements, or it would not have adopted it for public presentation and consideration for a proclamation,” the Alaska Supreme Court said of the option they ordered to be adopted. “We are about a week short of June 1 and the board has made no known effort to prepare or present to us an interim plan other than option 2.”
[Go deeper: Read the ruling here]
The alternative that will be used for the 2022 elections pairs the deeply conservative Eagle River together in one Senate district, the conservative South Anchorage together in its own Senate district and the liberal-leaning East Anchorage together. It also orders the House district that covers Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Government Hill be paired with the Downtown Anchorage, creating what most consider to be a safe Senate district for Democrats. The board has the option to revisit the pairings for future elections, but it will be difficult for them to extend the advantage as long as Eagle River is kept together.
That JBER/Government Hill pairing with Eagle River was central to the Alaska Redistricting Board’s efforts to boost Republican advantage in the Legislature, arguing JBER’s military voters would be best served if they were lumped together with the deeply conservative Eagle River. In both public conversations and private emails, the board’s conservatives worried that pairing it with any of other the adjacent Anchorage districts would have benefitted Democrats.
The latest round of litigation was brought by Girdwood residents in the South Anchorage district that was paired with Eagle River after the board was sent back to the drawing board by the Alaska Supreme Court to fix the gerrymander of putting Eagle River with East Anchorage. The Girdwood plaintiffs argued that it was essentially the same gerrymander in a different package. Judge Matthews agreed.
This is the second time this year that this Court has been called upon to determine whether the Alaska Redistricting Board fulfilled its constitutional responsibility in drawing the Senate map for Anchorage voters. After this court found the board failed in its first attempt, the Alaska Supreme Court confirmed the board had engaged in partisan gerrymandering. Following remand to the board, a new map was drawn. This time, the process occurred mostly in public. But the Amended Plan still provides Eagle River with effective control of two senate seats. Girdwood Plaintiffs have challenged the map claiming it still amounts to a partisan gerrymander. This court agrees.
The board will still have to approve the new maps ahead of the June 1 candidate filing deadline. While it’s unlikely that the board has any other options available to it, its members have already shown they’re willing to snub the Alaska Supreme Court. Chair John Binkley voted against a separate fix ordered by the Alaska Supreme Court that came out of the original round of litigation, arguing he thought they got it wrong.
A foundation built on ‘nuts’ and ‘crazy’
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