Nevada Supreme Court sets redistricting hearing
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Nevada’s redistricting battle is headed to the state Supreme Court sooner than expected.
The court released an order late Wednesday announcing it will hear arguments on the case next month to determine whether the state Legislature abandoned its duty to draw new voter districts. It will also rule on whether the state government’s judicial branch has the authority to draw district boundaries.
Hanging in the balance are voter boundaries that could decide congressional, state Senate and Assembly races for the next decade. Nevada will have four House districts for the first time next year because of its swelling population, the fastest growing in the nation during the last decade.
In its order, the high court noted that the state constitution requires the Legislature, not the courts, to draw the district boundaries.
The state Legislature opted to drop the once-in-a-decade redistricting process earlier this year after Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval twice vetoed plans passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly. That left one of the Legislature’s most important duties to the courts.
Carson City District Court Judge James Russell has heard arguments from lawyers representing the state Republican and Democratic parties, but largely left the question of how the maps should be drawn to three court masters. They were ordered to hold public hearings in Las Vegas and Carson City next week and finish their first draft of the voting maps by Oct. 21.
Russell had said he would reach a final decision on the new district boundaries by Nov. 16.
But Secretary of State Ross Miller challenged that process Monday, when he filed an emergency petition asking the Nevada Supreme Court to intervene. Miller wrote that Russell’s refusal to define what criteria should be used to draw the districts would create confusion and urged the high court to force some answers.
The court said it will hear arguments on the case on Nov. 14 in Carson City.
It was almost a given that the redistricting lawsuit would come before the high court because of the high stakes involved. Lawyers for both political parties had said they expected Russell’s ruling to be appealed, regardless of his decision.
Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years based on Census data. Nevada Democrats and Republicans have accused each other of trying to manipulate the process for political gain.
The lawsuit before Russell centers on whether the state’s ballooning Hispanic population should have its own voter district. Hispanics now total one-fourth of Nevada residents.
Republicans claim Hispanics will have a more powerful voice if they are concentrated in one district, while Democrats argue Hispanics will have more influence if they are divided among multiple districts.
The uncertainty has delayed campaigning in the 2012 elections, even as a handful of U.S. House candidate have emerged. The candidates need to know the district boundaries if they want to target voters and campaign donors and figure out whether they can win.
Russell appointed the three court masters in August. They are Reno lawyer Tom Sheets, Carson City Recorder Alan Glover and former Legislative Counsel Bureau staffer Bob Erickson.