SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday in a legal challenge to a congressional map that divvies up a politically conservative region of the state.
It’s one of several court battles in states from Kentucky to Utah regarding U.S. House districts enacted by state legislatures and alleged constitutional violations.
The Republican Party and several other plaintiffs have accused Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico of breaking up the southeastern corner of the state — an oil producing region and Republican stronghold — into three districts “for raw political gain.”
The case holds implications for the 2nd Congressional District where Democrat Gabe Vasquez in November ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell. The majority-Hispanic district currently stretches from the U.S. border with Mexico across desert oilfields and portions of Albuquerque.
Clovis-based District Judge Fred Van Soelen in April cleared the way for Republicans to challenge the new congressional map, while barring immediate changes that might have disrupted the 2022 midterm election.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and leading Democratic legislators have asked the Supreme Court to intervene and preserve their redistricting plan.
They say new boundaries to the state’s three congressional districts were vetted appropriately through the political process to ensure more competitive districts that reflect population shifts, with deference to Native American communities.
But lawmakers also contend that political considerations are inseparable from the process of drawing congressional districts and warned the court against delving into a “political thicket.”
In related litigation at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, justices are considering a challenge that would leave state legislatures virtually unchecked in making rules for congressional and presidential elections. Arguments were presented in December.
Republicans from North Carolina who brought that case to the high court argue that a provision of the U.S. Constitution known as the elections clause gives state lawmakers virtually total control over the “times, places and manner” of congressional elections, including redistricting. That means cutting state courts out of the process, they say. State courts have become the only legal forum for challenging partisan congressional maps since the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that those lawsuits cannot be brought in federal court.
The stakes in that case are high because Republicans won only a slim House majority in the November 2022 elections, giving them just enough power to challenge President Joe Biden’s agenda. Any ruling that causes some districts to be redrawn likely would kick in for the 2024 elections.
In New Mexico, Democrats won all three congressional contests in November. They control every statewide elected office, command majorities in the state House and Senate, and make up the five-member Supreme Court.
“Under the previous congressional map, the community of interest in southeastern New Mexico had a real opportunity to elect a Republican member of Congress,” the Republican Party said in a written court brief.