A federal court has refused to block Alaska’s challenged redistricting process, but a top federal judge has said he’ll take a personal role in the case.
Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason Friday declined to issue a temporary restraining order barring Alaska elections officials from preparing for an August 28 election using disputed maps of new districts.
“We are pleased that Judge Gleason has allowed us to continue preparing for the election for the time being,” said Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections.
“In order to make sure that the election is held on time and in a way that allows everyone to exercise his or her right to vote, it’s important that we prepare now.”
At the same time Friday, a top federal judge said he’d take a personal role in the Alaska redistricting challenge.
Late in May the Alaska Redistricting Board got Alaska Supreme Court approval to move forward with new district maps, contested in Fairbanks, Petersburg and elsewhere as they were being drawn up over the last year.
The state Elections Division began preparing for an election using those maps, and the board submitted them to the U.S. Department of Justice for “preclearance” approval that they complied with the Voting Rights Act.
That act requires that Alaska Natives don’t lose voting strength due to how boundaries are drawn.
Last week the Anchorage-based Native American Rights Fund challenged the election, saying that moving forward without a precleared plan would cause irreparable harm to its clients, three Western Alaska residents “who are standing in for tens of thousand of Alaskans who are harmed” if the state moves forward with an unapproved plan.
Gleason denied the temporary restraining order, but did so on narrow ground. She said that a single judge has a higher standard of proof of damage than does a three-judge panel.
She denied the TRO, and requested the appointment of a three-judge panel.
Later Friday, Chief Circuit Judge Alex of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals appointed the three-judge panel – and named himself to the panel. Also on the panel are Gleason and James K. Singleton, a senior judge from Alaska.
In Gleason’s ruling she noted that a key deadline that a temporary restraining order might have been used to block was the adoption of the challenged plan before the candidate-filing deadline. But she noted that that deadline passed June 1, before the order was sought.
And, she said, the Native American Rights Fund can still seek a temporary injunction from the three-judge panel, which may meet in late June.
The Alaska Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Amended Proclamation Plan that it ordered used for the 2012 elections may well be found to be flawed and ordered to be revised before the 2014 election, but that plan should nevertheless be used this year.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.