Oregon Supreme Court Confirms New State House and Senate Cards


The Oregon Senate met to vote on new congressional and legislative maps as part of the state’s redistribution process on Monday, September 20.

Sam Stites / OPB

The Oregon Supreme Court has dismissed claims that the state’s new legislative districts passed by Democrats in September were improperly drawn, ending one facet of an ongoing redistribution struggle in the state.

In a ruling on Monday morning, judges ruled that the challengers had failed to prove that the new boundaries of the state’s 60 House districts and the state’s 30 Senate districts were designed with illegal partisan intent, or violated any other rule that legislators are supposed to take into account.

“This court has long recognized that (…) constitutional and statutory provisions confer broad discretion on the legislature to design a redistribution plan,” wrote Justice Chris Garrett, a former lawmaker who played a role in the redistribution in 2011, in the opinion. The court would only go against those plans, he wrote, if it found that lawmakers had failed to consider the appropriate criteria when drawing up the maps, or had “done a choice or choices that were unreasonable. [reapportioning body] already done.

Two lawsuits challenging the cards have failed on these counts, Garrett wrote. The result ends the debate over what Oregon’s legislative districts will look like over the next decade, giving lawmakers and future lawmakers certainty as they consider running for election next year.

The new legislative maps come into effect on January 1. An analysis of the plans using Dave’s Redistricting website suggests they will lead to continued democratic scrutiny of both chambers for the foreseeable future, although it is not clear that the party will maintain three-fifths of the qualified majorities. currently holds.

The two lawsuits challenging the maps offered significantly different arguments to justify their modification.

A lawsuit, filed by two men from Lane County and backed by a representative of the Democratic state, sought only to move a single line of demarcation that separated a section of southeast Eugene from the rest of the town.

Petitioners Gordon Culbertson and David Calderwood argued that carving up a piece of town into a largely rural district unduly separated communities with a common interest. And they said the line was drawn with illegal political intent, to ensure that State Representative Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, was not able to issue a primary challenge to a senator in exercise, Democrat Eugene Floyd Prozanski. As a result, according to the lawsuit, Wilde now lives in a Republican-leaning neighborhood that will be difficult for him to gain access to.

State attorneys, meanwhile, said the contested limit became necessary after lawmakers made changes to their original proposed map to ensure the University of Oregon was not split into different districts. This change, they noted, came at the behest of Wilde and others who wanted the university to remain entirely in one district.

Garrett and other justices found no reason to find the line lawmakers arrived at was better than the proposed change in the court challenge, and they seemed to doubt that Wilde had been the victim of political retaliation, like he and other lawmakers have said so.

The other challenge for the cards was much broader. Filed by a former Republican state lawmaker and Lake Oswego lawyer, the lawsuit suggested lawmakers failed to conduct the proper process when considering new districts and passed an illegally partisan map that should be completely deleted.

The judges were not impressed by these arguments, saying they were “unconvincing, in large part because they are based on questionable assumptions and not based on the reasons behind the actions of the Legislative Assembly “.

Since it ruled that the card challengers failed to prove the fundamental points of their case, the state Supreme Court did not pursue certain claims raised by the Oregon Department of Justice that did frowning in recent weeks.

Perhaps most notably, the DOJ has repeatedly argued in court that even if lawmakers passed plans illegally gerrymandered under state law, the court would be powerless to stop it. This argument rests on the idea that the bill adopting new political districts, Senate Bill 882, would prevail over the old law which prohibited partisan gerrymandering.

“A law cannot be struck down on the grounds that it violates another law rather than a constitutional provision,” the DOJ wrote in a court filing earlier this month. “If SB 882 was in conflict with ORS 188.010, the former would control as the most recently passed law. “

The argument sparked disbelief in some corners when it was revealed, but the judges were not ultimately ruling on its merit on Monday.

Though widely adopted on party lines, the state House and Senate districts that will now come into effect were the least controversial aspect of a deeply acrimonious redistribution process in September. Lawmakers have fought fiercely over how the state will add a sixth district to the United States House – a move that could impact the party that controls Congress in 2023.

The Congress map adopted by Democrats has been reported to be flawed by several leading tools for measuring the fairness of political constituencies. An ongoing Republican challenge to Congress is before a panel of five judges. During oral argument, the judges hinted they were skeptical that the new districts were clearly gerrymandered, dotting the challengers’ lawyers with questions.

This panel is expected to rule this week. If he dismisses the case, applicants have the option of appealing to the state Supreme Court.


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