Fresh lawsuits challenge Idaho’s new redistricting maps

December 16, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Two fresh lawsuits have been filed with the Idaho Supreme Court against the state’s redistricting commission, with one challenging the state’s new U.S. congressional district map and the other challenging the state legislative map.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by an Elmore County resident is the first to challenge the map redrawing the state’s two congressional districts. Another lawsuit filed Thursday by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is the fourth challenging the map redrawing the state’s 35 legislative districts.

Both lawsuits name the six-person redistricting commission and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney as defendants.

Christopher Pentico contends that the new congressional district map violates Idaho law because it splits six local voting precinct boundary lines in Ada County.

Pentico in the lawsuit said Idaho law allows the commission to split precincts in the legislative district map, but not in the congressional district map.

“The statute requires that all district boundaries ‘shall’ retain local voting precinct boundary lines,” the lawsuit stated. “ The statute permits the Commission to make a finding that it cannot complete its duties for a legislative district by fully complying with its provisions, but by the plain language, this does not apply to congressional redistricting.”

The Idaho attorney general’s office, which will defend the commission and Denney in the lawsuits, declined to comment on Thursday.

Pentico contends the only congressional district map that meets all statutory and congressional criteria for congressional reapportionment is the one he submitted.

He also said the commission missed its deadline in submitting the maps. That argument revolves around wording in the Idaho statute concerning the formation of the commission. Pentico argues the commission submitted the maps two days late, though the commission’s schedule said it finalized the maps two weeks ahead of the deadline.

The lawsuit from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes contends the commission violated the law by splitting the tribes’ reservations despite Idaho law stating, “to the maximum extent possible, districts shall preserve traditional neighborhoods and local communities of interest.”

The tribes said the commission split the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s reservation, located in northern Idaho, into two districts. The lawsuit said the commission split the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ reservation, located in eastern Idaho, into three districts, including splitting the reservation’s “primary hub and population down the middle into two legislative districts.”

The commission was required to come up with 35 districts that have not more than a 10% population variance, with each district containing roughly 52,000 residents.

“The Commission erred in setting a primary goal of the smallest maximum deviation as possible to the exclusion of state and tribal interests,” the tribes’ lawsuit said. “The Tribes were prejudiced by the Commission’s error because it disregarded their communities of interest during redistricting.”

In the other lawsuits involving the legislative district map, two argue that the map chosen by the commission, which splits eight counties, is unconstitutional because it divides up more counties than necessary. The tribes asked the court to combine their lawsuit with those two and allow the tribes to take part in oral arguments scheduled for Jan. 14.

The remaining lawsuit challenging the legislative district map mainly involves districts in southeastern Idaho. That lawsuit said some of those districts appear to have been drawn to protect current senators so they have a better chance of maintaining their posts in future elections.

The redistricting commission last month approved the map redrawing Idaho’s two congressional districts. The commission also approved a new map for 35 legislative districts from which voters will select the state’s 105 lawmakers over the next 10 years.

The new congressional and legislative district maps will be used for elections next year, including Republican and Democratic primaries in the spring and the general election in November.