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Oregon Supreme Court dismisses challenge to legislative maps

November 22, 2021 GMT

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court on Monday dismissed two challenges filed by Republicans to new state legislative districts approved by the Legislature in September.

The lawmakers passed new legislative and congressional boundaries that included a new, sixth U.S. House seat. The ruling Monday was specifically about the 90 state legislative districts that will likely enable Democrats to continue to hold majorities in the House and Senate, but will not guarantee the party the three-fifths supermajorities it currently holds.

Republicans throughout the redistricting process accused Democrats of gerrymandering. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that in petitions challenging the maps, Republicans alleged that Democratic lawmakers drew districts for partisan political gain and to help incumbents.

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In its ruling the Supreme Court said the GOP failed to show that the new districts violated state law.

“This court has long recognized that the foregoing constitutional and statutory provisions confer broad discretion on the Legislature to devise a reapportionment plan,” Justice Christopher L. Garrett wrote for the court. “In reviewing a reapportionment plan enacted by the Legislative Assembly, this court will not substitute its own judgment about the wisdom of the plan.”

Previous Oregon Supreme Court rulings set a high bar for anyone who seeks to challenge legislative districts drawn by lawmakers or the secretary of state.

Although there are criteria in state law including that districts should follow existing political and geographical boundaries and should not be drawn for partisan political gain or to benefit any incumbent or other person, the Supreme Court has ruled that lawmakers and secretaries of state must only show that they considered these criteria, not that they actually followed them.

Under this precedent maps are only in jeopardy if the justices determine that the map drawer or drawers “made a choice or choices that no reasonable (redistricting official) would have made,” in the wording of a 2001 Supreme Court opinion.

This contentious redistricting year was marked by a broken power-sharing deal.

During the 2021 legislative session, House Democrats gave up a powerful advantage. In exchange for the Republicans agreeing to stop blocking bills with delay tactics, House Speaker Tina Kotek agreed to share redistricting power with the GOP — essentially granting veto power to the minority party over what the six congressional districts and the state’s 90 legislative districts will look like.

But Kotek later voided that power-sharing deal, saying she was “disappointed that after many months of work, House Republicans did not engage constructively despite many attempts to address their concerns.”