Republican Party of New Mexico files lawsuit over redistricting

·3 min read

Jan. 22—The Republican Party of New Mexico and six other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit Friday in the 5th Judicial District Court alleging a new map of the state's three congressional districts, approved last month by the heavily Democratic Legislature, is "a political gerrymander" that weakens the voting power of residents in southeastern communities.

The suit says legislators "ran roughshod" over traditional redistricting methods to give Democrats an advantage.

Communities of interest were split around the state, according to the suit, but particularly in the southeast, long a Republican stronghold. "Fracturing these communities of interesting drastically cracks — and thereby dilutes — a significant block of registered Republicans," the complaint says.

It names Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and House Speaker Brian Egolf, all Democrats, as defendants.

Among the plaintiffs joining the state GOP in filing the suit are Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, and former state Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat.

The suit asks the court to throw out the congressional map approved by the Legislature and signed by Lujan Grisham and instead choose one proposed by the Citizens Redistricting Committee. The independent panel collected data and map proposals in a public process last year and recommended three options for the Legislature to consider.

Lawmakers were not required to approve any of the maps proposed by the committee, however.

State senators created and introduced a congressional map, which eventually was approved by both chambers and sent to the governor for her signature.

Partisan debates over the map were contentious in both chambers during a December special session.

Camille Ward, a spokeswoman for Egolf, said Friday night the speaker had not yet seen the lawsuit. "As a matter of policy, we don't comment on litigation," she said.

Neither Stewart nor Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, returned a message seeking comment.

The complaint came just a day after two Democratic lawmakers filed a joint resolution that would ask New Mexico voters to decide on a constitutional amendment allowing the Citizens Redistricting Committee to choose new congressional and legislative maps during the 10-year redistricting process.

Under the measure, the committee would submit its maps directly to the Secretary of State's Office.

State Reps. Daymon Ely of Corrales and Natalie Figueroa of Albuquerque introduced House Joint Resolution 9 on Thursday.

If lawmakers in both the House and Senate approve the measure — which ultimately would cut them out of the redistricting process in the future — it will be placed on the November general election ballot.

Redistricting takes place ever 10 years using updated U.S. census data.

The process often is controversial and frequently ends up in a New Mexico court.

In 2012, a state district judge drew new election boundaries for congressional and legislative seats after then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, vetoed a redistricting plan drafted after the 2010 census by a Legislature controlled by Democrats.

In early December, before the special session on redistricting began, two leading state senators — a Democrat and a Republican — both predicted there would be a legal challenge this year as well.

"There's always the possibility of a lawsuit," said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. "My guess is there probably will be."

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, noting the state's lengthy history with redistricting lawsuits, agreed.

"The last two [efforts] have ended up in lawsuits," he said in December. "I don't think that will be different this time. Whatever maps may be decided, there will be lawsuits — somebody will be unhappy."

Staff reporter Daniel Chacon contributed to this story.