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November 20, 2019

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Republicans say special master congressional maps are “legally appropriate,” lament partisan state Senate maps

The state GOP has all but surrendered on its plan to pack minorities into one congressional district, acknowledging in court documents that maps drawn by a special panel are legal and should not be changed for partisan reasons. But the Republicans strongly argued in a brief that legislative maps are biased toward Democrats, encasing two of that party's state senators in safe districts.

Both major parties filed documents Monday in Carson City -- with a lower court and the Supreme Court -- in the ongoing redistricting battle that now shows signs of petering out, at least on the congressional map questions. (Of course, it is always possible that someone or some group challenge maps that both parties agree are legally sufficient, even if the lower and high courts rubber-stamp the current maps.)

In the Supreme Court, Democrats made a spectacular argument that governors cannot veto redistricting plans (especially, I suppose, ones they love) while the Republicans mounted a stirring defense for the executive branch (coincidentally now filled by a Republican).

Democrats, who originally fretted about the so-called special masters but then were thrilled into silence by the maps they drew, filed a document in Carson Judge Todd Russell's court that essentially says: Looks good to us.

Republicans, who had effusively praised the masters, assented to the legality of congressional districts that provide two safe Democratic seats, one safe GOP seat and one (now held by Republican Rep. Joe Heck) competitive seat.

The Democrats’ lower court brief is almost comical in its conclusion, bending so far backward to be solicitous to the masters they once feared that the lawyers should be in a Cirque de Soleil production. (My annotations in parentheses)

“Though Plaintiffs would have preferred a map that showed greater deference to the Legislature’s careful work in SB 497 (the blatantly Democratic centric plan vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval), the facts found by the Special Masters are unassailable and the Masters carefully applied traditional redistricting criteria. To avoid disrupting the careful balance (you have to be kidding!) achieved by the Special Masters, Plaintiffs refrain from raising any substantive objections to the Special Masters’ work at this time (how shameless can you get?).”

In their brief, the Republicans all but acknowledge they did as well as they could have in the congressional maps (Democrats have a 3 percentage point edge in Heck’s district, half what it was in 2010 when he won). Although the GOP informs Russell the party still believes a majority-minority district is preferable (making Heck more safe), they acknowledge the masters’ maps are “legally appropriate, obey the traditional redistricting criteria and should not be changed simply for either Party’s preferences.”

So that will end it on the congressional districts, unless Russell or the high court justices disagree with a rare consensus (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), or someone takes it to federal court if they are ratified.

On the legislative maps, which some see as guaranteeing Democratic majorities in both houses even beyond what the party’s registration advantage would indicate, the GOP says the masters maps would “yield an extremely partisan result.”

Republican lawyers found a legal hook to make their case for political change, saying state Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s district does not conform to traditional redistricting principles and could be adjusted and – voila! – order restored to those Democratic-friendly districts, too.

Some of the language in the GOP brief, though, does read more like a campaign manifesto than a legal document. To wit:

“In short, the Special Masters plans take what once were two competitive seats and turn them strongly Democratic and wholly non-competitive.” The brief even mentions Democratic Sen. Alison Copening’s “ethical concerns” that may cause her to “not even run again,” adopting an argument from a conservative Review-Journal columnist who is outraged by the lines.

Yes, the GOP should be worried about those legislative maps. But writing campaign mail pieces surely can’t help with Judge Russell, right?


In arguing to the justices why Secretary of State Ross Miller's call for a stay should not be granted, the GOP argued the process is proceeding and should be allowed to continue. The Republicans disagreed with the Democrats that the governor's veto of redistricting plans is constitutional (shocking, as Gov. Brian Sandoval rejected two Democratic plans, illuminating both sides legal arguments as shaded by politics).

The GOP argument is that every other state clearly allows redistricting bills to be vetoed and that because it is passed in the form of legislation, the Constitution says every bill must be signed by the governor. Thus, the "inescapable conclusion" is that the governor had a right to veto those bills, the Republican brief argues.

The Democrats do make a fascinating legal argument on the governor's veto, though. Attorneys Bradley Schrager and Matt Griffin point out that the only article in the Nevada Constitution that uses the word "mandatory" is the one compelling lawmakers to carry out redistricting after the decennial census. A gubernatorial veto would thus be an intrusion into legislative power defined in the Constitution and would violate the "plain meaning" of the article, the Democratic brief argues.

But what if the high court agrees with this argument? Then what? The first Democratic plan becomes law? If that were to happen, the GOP would have no choice to pursue some sort of federal remedy, I presume. Lovely.

The GOP and Democratic lower court briefs are at right.

The high court briefs, as well as ones from The League of Women Voters and Alex Garza, a GOP activist, can be found on the Supreme Court web site along with the others.

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