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Watchdog groups file brief in congressional gerrymandering case

Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-N.M., speaks during a news conference to announce the bipartisan Southwest Caucus June 15 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mariam Zuhaib/The Associated Press
The case concerns objections to maps that expanded the 2nd Congressional District

Some watchdog groups and redistricting experts filed an amicus brief in a case concerning New Mexico’s congressional redistricting maps on Aug. 14.

The brief was filed in state judicial district court by watchdog groups Common Cause New Mexico, Election Reformers Network and the League of Women Voters New Mexico and it supports neither party in the case.

The case concerns objections to New Mexico’s redistricted congressional maps that expanded the 2nd Congressional District into Albuquerque. That seat is currently held by former Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, a Democrat.

Plaintiffs in the case, including the Republican Party of New Mexico, claim the adopted congressional map is gerrymandered against theirs and others’ votes which they state violates the New Mexico Equal Protection Clause, the brief stated.

The amicus brief seeks to help the court apply the New Mexico Supreme Court’s three-part test that was adapted from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissenting opinion in the Rucho v. Common Cause case of 2019.

“We are gratified that the district court is using the three-part test suggested by Justice Kagan in Rucho v. Common Cause,” Mason Graham, Common Cause New Mexico Policy Director, said in a news release. “It’s a reasonable way to determine if there was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and if the will of the voters was diluted or overturned.”

The three-part test asks if the defendant’s main reason for drawing the district “was to entrench (their party) in power by diluting the votes of citizens favoring its rival”; whether the map substantially diluted those people’s votes and if so “whether the Defendants have a “legitimate, nonpartisan justification to save (their) map,” the brief stated citing information from Kagan’s dissent.

The brief is for information only and does not seek to guide the Court on whether or not the three-part test was satisfied.

“While the proposed amici offer guidance on the application of the applicable three-part test, emphasizing the unique relevance of quantitative ensemble analyses, the proposed amici do not purport to offer the Court with a conclusive view of whether SB 1 is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander or whether any particular part in the three-part test is satisfied,” the brief stated.

“The decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court to send this complaint back to a District Court for consideration was a victory for voters who believe the courts can – and must – protect voters’ constitutional rights by considering cases alleging partisan gerrymandering,” Hannah Burling of The League of Women Voters of New Mexico said in a news release. “The League has no opinion on the merits of the complaint but does support the role of the courts in ruling on partisan gerrymandering.”

Other parties in the brief included Professor Dr. Sam Wang of the Electoral Innovation Lab, Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners LLC, Jonathan Cervas of Carnegie Mellon University and Roderick Kennedy a retired New Mexico Court of Appeals judge and co-chair of the New Mexico Redistricting Task Force.

A bench trial in the case is scheduled for Sept. 27-29.