NV redistricting fight goes before judge Wednesday
RENO (AP) – Nevada Democrats and Republicans going before a state judge this week in a legal battle over redistricting are accusing each other of trying to manipulate the boundaries of new congressional districts for their own political gain under the guise of benefiting Hispanics.
Republicans argue Hispanics will have a bigger political voice if they are more concentrated in one of the four U.S. House districts. But lawyers for the Democrats maintain in new court documents filed in district court in Carson City this past week that strategy is a “cynical ploy” aimed at minimizing their influence elsewhere.
“Adopting their approach would almost undoubtedly lead to … unconstitutional racial gerrymandering,” wrote Bradley Schrager, one of the Democrats’ attorneys.
Voting boundaries are redrawn every 10 years based on Census data. Because of a continuation of the growth that earned Nevada a second seat in 1982 and a third one in 2002, the state will have four House members after the 2012 election.
But the new boundaries for the 2012 elections remain in limbo after Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval twice vetoed the maps the Democrat-controlled Legislature approved earlier year, saying they were illegal.
District Judge James Russell appointed three special masters last month to oversee the drawing of Nevada’s voting districts. He scheduled Wednesday’s hearing to allow both sides to make oral arguments before he rules on legal issues surrounding criteria the masters will use to complete the task the Legislature failed to accomplish.
Hispanics now account for one-fourth of Nevada’s population.
Much of the conflict between the two parties is over their interpretation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and so-called minority-majority districts – in this case a district where Hispanic numbers would be the greatest and therefore at least theoretically have the best chance to carry an election, most likely in central Las Vegas.
Democrats, who generally enjoy more support from Hispanics than do Republicans in Nevada, said a minority-majority district won’t work in this case. They say that’s because each district is supposed to be as close to the same size as possible – ideally 675,138 people each – and there are only approximately 213,000 Hispanic citizens of voting age in all of Nevada.
Republicans argue that while it may not provide a majority, such boundaries would meet the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals mandate that any such divisions “ultimately must show a practical effect on the minority group’s ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
“In the potential Hispanic congressional district, Hispanics will have the ability to elect a candidate of their choice because they will control the Democratic primary and a Democrat is forecast to win the general election,” wrote Mark Hutchison, one of the lawyers representing the Nevada GOP.
“If on the other hand, the Hispanic population is divided into multiple different districts, then Hispanics will not have the ability to control the Democratic primary and will not have the ability to elect a candidate of their choice to Congress,” he said.
Democrats counter that the law makes clear one “cannot assume from a group of voters’ race that they ‘think alike, share the same political interests, and will prefer the same candidates at the polls.”‘
But he said the Republicans essentially “argue that every Hispanic in Clark County falls into one community of interest, whether they be liberal or conservative, rich or poor, Cuban or Salvadoran, recent immigrant or fifth-generation American.”