Friday, January 20, 2012

Court throws out district boundaries

Plan splits too many counties, justices say

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Supreme Court threw out the state's only approved redistricting plan Wednesday, citing a constitutional provision that requires the state citizen Commission for Reapportionment to avoid splitting counties.

The 4-1 decision sends the state's commission back to work to redraw the state's electoral districts before the state primaries in less than five weeks.

The suit was brought before the court by Twin Falls and Kootenai counties, which argued that the plan violated the constitution by splitting 12 counties, including theirs.

The plan changed nothing for Blaine County.

The state constitution says counties may be split only when necessary to come up with districts that follow the state's one-person, one-vote requirement. Justices noted that the two redistricting commissions—one convened this summer, the other in late September when the first commission failed—reviewed 88 plans that fit requirements, some of which split fewer counties than did the adopted plan.

"The commission considered and rejected other plans that comply with the Federal Constitution and divide fewer counties," the court's ruling reads. "[The adopted plan] does not divide counties only to the extent that counties must be divided to comply with the Federal Constitution. It likewise does not avoid dividing counties whenever possible in violation of Idaho Code."

The sole dissenter, Justice Jim Jones, argued that the state constitution granted the commission discretion to divide counties if it feels division is necessary.

The commission must redraw the district boundaries before the season's state legislative filing date on Feb. 27, in preparation for the state's primaries on May 15.

However, the commission may be granted more time as the Legislature introduced a bill Thursday that would move the primary date from May to August.

The commission has set public meetings for Thursday and Friday of next week at the state Capitol, the second time that state redistricters have been ordered back to the drawing board.

State code requires district lines to be redrawn every 10 years in accordance with the most recent census data, and the U.S. Constitution requires those districts to have approximately equal populations.

Katherine Wutz:

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