Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 | 12:44 p.m.
A Carson City judge today ordered three court masters to hold a pair of public hearings next month as they set about redrawing Nevada’s congressional and legislative districts.
Striking an ambitious timeline in order to get the lines redrawn before the next election, Carson City District Judge James T. Russell ordered the court masters to have their first map completed by Oct. 21.
The masters—Reno lawyer Tom Sheets, Carson City Recorder Alan Glover and former Legislative Counsel Bureau staffer Bob Erickson—must take public testimony in Las Vegas on Oct. 10 and in Carson City on Oct. 11, essentially re-treading the same ground taken by state lawmakers who failed to pass a redistricting plan earlier this year.
The three men will then deliberate behind closed doors to come up with their report and first draft maps for congressional, senate and assembly maps—in that order.
At the conclusion of a three-hour hearing today, Russell said he would issue a written opinion on the legal disputes that divide the Republicans and Democrats.
The heart of the legal fight lies at how to interpret the Voting Rights Act, passed during the civil rights era to prohibit discriminatory voting practices.
Republicans argue the act requires Nevada create at least one majority-minority congressional district where Hispanics make up more than 50 percent of the population. They also want four majority-minority state Senate districts and eight majority-minority Assembly Districts.
Democrats argue it’s unconstitutional to rely on race as the predominant factor in drawing the district lines. Politically, they argue Hispanics would have more influence if their growing numbers were spread across a wider number of districts.
The two parties also disagree on how the court masters should begin the process of drawing the maps.
Republicans want the masters to use the existing 2001 districts as a starting point, while Democrats argue the first maps passed by the Legislature and vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval should serve as the starting point.
Russell is expected to issue a written decision on those questions before the masters release their maps next month.
The case is expected to be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court and perhaps to federal court, creating a significant delay of candidates hoping to run in the 2012 election.