ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday swiftly rejected the final challenges to the redistricting plan for the Alaska Legislature, issuing a unanimous order affirming the map just hours after oral arguments.
The court's order clears the way for candidates to file for office under the new district plan this week. The filing deadline for the state's primary election is Saturday.
On March 21, the court found major problems with the original map drawn up by the state's five-member Redistricting Board and approved in a 3-2 vote last June.
Republicans said the map paired too many Republican incumbents in individual districts, and others complained about districts containing population groups with little in common, such as Valdez and parts of Anchorage.
In its March ruling, the court said House Districts 5, 12 and 16 were not compact enough and also ordered all Anchorage districts adjusted to reduce population deviations.
The Redistricting Board went back to work, and crafted a new map on April 25. This time the plan was approved unanimously.
The board's redrawn map severed the connection between Anchorage and Valdez and instead recreated the so-called "Richardson Highway" district from Fairbanks to Valdez. It linked a portion of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough with Anchorage, and the Denali Borough with parts of Fairbanks. Districts within Anchorage were juggled.
The plan still left about a dozen Republican incumbents facing each other.
The new map was approved by Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner early this month, but a handful of objections were filed, then consolidated into one case. Among the objectors were the Municipality of Anchorage and former state Rep. Terry Martin.
In oral arguments Friday, plaintiffs' attorney Ken Jacobus argued that the new plan had three problems.
He said that residents of District 32, which runs from Eagle River Valley, across the Anchorage Hillside, to Girdwood, Whittier, Portage and Hope, have little in common socially or economically.
Second, he argued that the statewide deviation from the ideal district size was still too high, leaving some areas like the Kenai Peninsula under-represented. And he said two Anchorage House districts were not compact.
The Supreme Court rejected all those arguments.
It said District 32 was socio-economically integrated because all communities in the Municipality of Anchorage are socio-economically integrated as a matter of law.
"While the Eagle River-Chugiak area is socio-economically integrated, its residents have no constitutional right to be placed in a single district," the court said.
As for the deviations from the "ideal" number of residents in a district, the court noted that in Anchorage, the board's redrawn districts deviate from the ideal by 1.1 percent or less. In other parts of the state, the court said, reducing population deviations are more problematic because of other requirements of the Alaska Constitution.
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