State Supreme Court hears NM GOP’s redistricting appeal
The state Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in the New Mexico Republican Party’s appeal in a case that saw Democratic lawmakers cleared of accusations of egregious partisan gerrymandering in the state's 2nd Congressional District. The question before the high court is whether Democrats had to guarantee their party’s victory to have drawn the map illegally, or simply make it harder for the GOP to win.
Last month District court judge Fred Van Soelen ruled that Democratic lawmakers successfully weakened GOP votes in the traditionally conservative southern district when they redrew it in 2021. However, he said they didn’t go far enough for the map to be unconstitutional. If they had, their party would be “entrenched” in power.
The lower court cited Republican Yvette Herrell’s very narrow 2022 loss to Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez as evidence that it’s still possible for Republicans to win the seat.
But, in the appeal to the Supreme Court, attorney for the Republican Party and other plaintiffs Carter Harrison argued that the new map does entrench the Democrats.
“Entrenchment doesn’t mean that it becomes impossible to win,” he said.
In a briefing, his team argued simply making it “difficult” for the Republican party to win was enough. Justice Michael Vigil said he had a “serious problem” with that.
“Your briefing kind of changes the definition of the word entrenchment,” he said.
Vigil looked the word up in the Oxford English Dictionary.
“It states as follows: The action of embedding or establishing something firmly, especially so that change is difficult or impossible,” he said.
Attorney for Democratic lawmakers Sara Sanchez encouraged the state Supreme Court to affirm the district court's original ruling.
“I would submit to this court that a highly competitive district that anybody can win in the antithesis of entrenchment,” she said.
Chief Justice Shannon Bacon told the parties the court would make a decision as soon as it can.
If the court upholds the original ruling, the map will be used in the likely 2024 rematch between Vasquez and Herrell. If it does not, a new map will need to be drawn ahead of the election.