Washington Supreme Court rejects redistricting lawsuits

January 7, 2022 GMT

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear two lawsuits challenging new political maps drawn by the bipartisan redistricting commission.

The separate lawsuits were filed by the Washington Coalition for Open Government and Arthur West of Olympia. They said the legislative and congressional maps must be invalidated because commissioners violated open meeting laws, negotiated secretly for hours before the Nov. 15 deadline and hurriedly voted on new boundaries that were not publicly displayed or debated.

The justices unanimously rejected consolidating and accepting the two cases. The decision means the separate legal challenges would have to go through lower trial courts.

Last month the state Supreme Court had said the plan adopted by the Washington Redistricting Commission “substantially complied” with statutory deadlines, and declined to adopt a new redistricting plan for the state.

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The justices returned the issue to the commission for any final steps necessary before sending new political maps to the Legislature.

If lawmakers want to make any changes, they must do so within the first 30 days of the legislative session, which starts Monday, and any change must be approved by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

The Redistricting Commission consisted of four voting members — two Democrats and two Republicans — appointed by legislative caucus leaders.

By law, at least three of the four had to agree on new political maps by Nov. 15. After going into a scheduled public meeting via Zoom at 7 p.m. the night of the deadline, the commissioners went into closed-door caucuses, which drew criticism. They then voted hastily just before midnight without showing the maps they just voted on.

Commissioners defended their chaotic final hours of work, saying they were hampered by a late 2020 Census, limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic and technological issues such as crashing computers.

The redrawn maps for the 10 U.S. House districts and 49 state legislative districts will be in place for the next decade, starting with the midterm elections.

Washington didn’t gain a new U.S. House seat following the latest census. Washington has seven Democratic U.S. House members and three Republicans. The state Legislature is controlled by Democrats.