Redistricting advisory panel takes shape in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward L. Chavez will lead a citizen redistricting committee to develop proposed changes to political district boundaries across New Mexico.

Chavez was appointed to the leadership role Friday by the State Ethics Commission.

Districts are redrawn every 10 years after the Census count to adjust for population shifts. New Mexico will draw new maps for three U.S. House districts as well as the state Senate, House and Public Education Commission that oversees charter schools.

The redistricting panel will hold a series of public meetings as it develops detailed proposals. Its recommendations will be presented to the Legislature and will not be binding.

Chavez was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2003 by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. Chavez authored the unanimous 2013 Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for gay marriage in New Mexico and then retired from the court in 2018.

The redistricting committee will have seven members in all, also including attorney and former Democratic Senate majority leader Michael Sanchez of Belen, who served 24 years in the Legislature before a 2016 election loss. He was tapped for the post by Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf.

Four committee members are picked by House and Senate leaders from both major parties. The State Ethics Commission appoints the chair as well as two members who are not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties.

States including New Mexico will have new discretion in the redistricting process under a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said partisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts is none of its business.

Recent elections put Democrats in firm control of the process in New Mexico under a Democratic governor and supermajorities in the Statehouse, and a Democrat-dominated Supreme Court.

New Mexico’s current voting districts were drawn in 2012 by a state district court after former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a plan from a Democratic-led Legislature. The court’s goal was to minimize partisan leanings and keep intact communities with similar cultural, economic or geographic concerns.