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High court orders redistricting plan be redrawn

Posted: December 30, 2012 - 1:11am

A divided Alaska Supreme Court on Friday ordered the state’s redistricting plan be redrawn for the 2014 elections.

The high court earlier this year ordered the redistricting board to redraw the map, with greater deference to Alaska constitutional requirements. But the court ultimately decided to let an interim plan be used for this year’s elections, after finding problems and concerns with the new map.

The court’s decision Friday finds that the board did not follow the process it was instructed to follow in redrawing the map the first time. That process — laid out in an earlier case, Hickel v. Southeast Conference — called for the board to design a plan focusing on state constitutional requirements and then determine if the plan complies with federal law. If it didn’t comply, the board was to make revisions deviating from the constitution when deviation was the only means available to meet the federal voting act requirements.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Walter Carpeneti, said it’s undisputed that the board began formulating its original plan by focusing exclusively on race and creating the correct number of districts needed to meet federal voting act requirements. When the board was ordered to take the constitution into account first in drawing the districts, it left intact the boundaries of 36 districts that hadn’t been challenged, the decision states.

Those 36 districts were first created to comply with the voting rights act, a “clear violation of Hickel’s plain language,” the decision states.

The decision turns aside a lower court ruling requiring the board to make findings of constitutionality on each House district and to submit a plan to the court for approval at each stage of drafting.

Justices Daniel Winfree and Craig Stowers agreed the board did not follow the process mandated by the high court but disagreed with the decision to not require district-by-district findings.

“Having twice failed to follow the Hickel process, the Board should be required to make findings allowing appropriate judicial review of its determinations,” the justices said.

Justice Dana Fabe and Senior Justice Warren Matthews, who was sitting by assignment, dissented from the majority opinion, saying they believed the board’s approach was practical and reasonable. They noted the challenge facing the board in complying with both the federal and state constitutional requirements.

Alaska is among the states required to submit redistricting plans or proposed election changes to the U.S. Justice Department for review to ensure the plans aren’t discriminatory.

Michael White, an attorney for the redistricting board, said Friday that he was still analyzing the decision and that the court may have misconstrued or overlooked some key facts.

He said the board will have to decide whether it wants to ask the court to reconsider its decision.

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