WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, a state-level trial begins in a redistricting lawsuit brought by the Republican Party of New Mexico challenging New Mexico’s congressional map for being an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
The plaintiffs argue that the new map is a partisan gerrymander that favors Democrats in violation of the New Mexico Constitution and its Equal Protection Clause. The complaint alleges that the map drawers split communities of interest and unnecessarily divided counties, cities and significant areas, such as Albuquerque, to achieve a partisan outcome. The current map contains one safe Democratic district and two highly competitive districts, whereas the previous map included one safe seat for each party with only one competitive district.
The defendants in the lawsuit, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D), have noted in their defense of the new map that this is the first time since 1991 that “a congressional map was enacted through legislative policy making rather than imposed by the courts through litigation” and that it addresses the many societal and population changes that have occurred in the last three decades.
In April 2022, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request to block the map for the 2022 election cycle and the plaintiffs appealed this decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Earlier this year, on July 5, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled for the first time that partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable and sent the case back to the trial court for further review.
On Friday, ahead of today’s trial, the New Mexico Supreme Court released an opinion, advising the district court to use a three-pronged legal test formulated from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent in Rucho v. Common Cause — a 2019 redistricting lawsuit out of North Carolina that held that federal courts cannot review partisan gerrymandering claims — to determine “whether the disparate treatment of vote dilution rises to the level of an egregious gerrymander.”
The opinion also clarifies that to establish a violation of the state’s Equal Protection Clause and to constitute an egregious partisan gerrymandering claim, the plaintiffs must prove that “the predominant purpose underlying [the] challenged map was to entrench the redistricting political party in power through vote dilution of a rival party; that individual plaintiffs’ rival-party votes were in fact substantially diluted by the challenged map; and, upon those showings, that the State cannot demonstrate a legitimate, nonpartisan justification for the challenged map.” This is in line with the standards set by the Kagan test.
Heading into the trial, the defendants argue that the new map did not “entrench the Democratic party in power, did not result in an egregious partisan gerrymander, and did not substantially dilute the votes of Republican voters.” They point out that to the contrary, each district is currently more competitive than the previous map’s districts.
The Democratic Party of New Mexico — which has also defended the maps and unsuccessfully attempted to intervene in the lawsuit as a defendant — responded to last week’s opinion, stating, “Crafting of the current maps followed a non-partisan, deliberative process that was informed, and invited expert and public input from communities across the state, and subsequently went through the complete legislative process in committees and both chambers.”
The plaintiffs are asking the court to strike down the new map and order the creation of a “partisan-neutral” map in time for the 2024 election cycle.