On Friday, October 6, after a weeks long trial, State District Judge Fred Van Soelen of the 9th Judicial District based in Clovis, ruled in a 14 page decision to strike down a lawsuit file by State Republicans alleging Democratic lawmakers gerrymandered New Mexico’s three congressional districts to favor and elect Democrats, especially in the southern congressional district. Judge Van Soelen in siding with Democrats ruled Republicans’ votes were diluted, but it did not rise to an “egregious gerrymander” and upheld the legislature’s approved redistricting maps. Republicans have vowed to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The lawsuit was filed back in 2021 when the New Mexico legislature redrew all 3 of New Mexico’s political boundaries in the process know as redistricting. The process of congressional redistricting occurs every 10 years to keep political voting boundaries relatively fair as local populations change.
For decades, New Mexico has had 3 congressional districts. The First Congressional District (CD1) was based almost entirely in Albuquerque. The 2nd Southern Congressional District (CD2) was the entire southern portion of New Mexico. The 3rd Northern Congressional District (CD3) covered Santa Fe and entire northern New Mexico. The Albuquerque and Northern New Mexico Districts have been decidedly Democrat leaning while the Southern-most district has been decidedly Republican. The new congressional map for District 3 moves southern parts of Albuquerque into the Southern Congressional District, creating a Democratic leaning district. Following its adoption, Republican Yvette Herrell lost her reelection bid in 2021.
The lawsuit controversy centered primarily around the new Congressional District 2 approved by state officials and signed into law by Lujan Grisham in 2021 during a special session of the Democrat-controlled Legislature. The map divides Lea County in half. Lea County now straddles the border between the Second and Third congressional districts and adds parts of Albuquerque to the southern Second Congressional District (CD2).
On October 6, the Democratic Party of New Mexico (DPNM), released the following statement reacting to the Republican Party of New Mexico’s redistricting lawsuit loss:
“It is no surprise that the New Mexico Republican Party lost its bogus lawsuit attempting to throw out competitive, fairly-drawn maps. Steve Pearce’s defunct Republican Party of New Mexico is merely looking to place blame somewhere for their recent election losses.
Crafting of the current maps followed a non-partisan, deliberative process that was informed by and invited expert and public input from communities across the state and subsequently went through the complete legislative process in committees and both chambers. In fact, these districts were intentionally crafted to be less partisan and more competitive than the previous ones.
Unfortunately for New Mexicans, the GOP in our state has become so beholden to the conspiratorial far-right that they continue to try to discredit the electoral process when they lose instead of running candidates who work to improve the lives of everyday New Mexicans.”
While Sandoval County was not and is not currently a part of District 2, its representation has somewhat changed. The entire town of Rio Rancho, which had been in District 3, has now been added to District 1. So when good Democrats voted for Teresa Leger Fernandez before the redistricting they now vote for Melanie Stansbury.
It is more likely than not that Republican efforts to appeal State District Judge Fred Van Soelen’s decision will fail and the appeal will fail because of a previous ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The New Mexico Supreme Court acknowledged the “inherently political nature of redistricting” and said some partisan gerrymandering is permissible. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled the three-part test outlined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in her dissenting opinion in the US Supreme Court case of RUCHO V. COMMON CAUSE should be used in the case to determine whether the map goes too far and violates the law. This means the Republican plaintiffs had to prove Democrats redrew the map to keep them in power, and that they achieved what they wanted to degree that was “egregious in intent and effect.”
Excerpted from Pete Dinelli’s Blog 10/8/23