Oregon Supreme Court upholds legislative redistricting plan
The Oregon Supreme Court has let stand the redistricting plan that the Legislature's Democratic majorities passed to account for population shifts resulting from the 2020 Census.
The court's action, released Monday, Nov. 22, will allow filings to proceed for all 60 House seats and 16 Senate seats up for election in 2022. One of those seats is for the unexpired two-year term in District 18, where Democrat Ginny Burdick resigned on Nov. 1. The rest are for four-year terms. (The other 14 Senate seats are up in 2024.)
An appeal is pending of the Legislature's approval of a redistricting plan for Oregon's six U.S. House districts, including a new seat Oregon gained as a result of the census. The Supreme Court is also the final arbiter of that plan.
The court, in an opinion written by Justice Chris Garrett, rejected two challenges to the redistricting plan for legislative seats approved by the Legislature in a special session Sept. 27.
One lawsuit was filed by Patrick Sheehan, a real estate agent and a one-term Republican state representative from Clackamas a decade ago, and Samantha Hazel, a lawyer from Lake Oswego. Their suit challenged the entire plan as a violation of the legal standards for legislative redistricting. They also said there were no in-person public hearings, and the virtual hearings focused only on plans submitted by the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
The other lawsuit was filed by David Calderwood, owner of a flower farm near Springfield, and Gordon Culbertson, co-owner of a tree farm near Springfield. Their challenge was more narrowly focused on how the area around the University of Oregon was divided among state House districts.
Chief Justice Martha Walters did not take part in the case.
Reaction to the court's decision was along party lines.
"I think we passed maps that were fair and representative of our population," Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said in a statement. "Today, the Supreme Court agreed."
The Senate Redistricting Committee, which originated both legislative and congressional maps, was led by Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie.
"As a result of that hard work, these maps successfully passed through rigorous legal review," she said. "I am very thankful to Senate President Courtney for his instrumental work in ensuring the successful passage of these maps."
But House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby decried the decision.
"This court decision approves a legislative redistricting map that predetermines election results for the next decade," she said. "Democrats have significantly reduced competition by picking which party will represent most House or Senate districts. That's not a real choice for Oregonians. That's gerrymandering."
Among the legal standards for redistricting are that districts must be contiguous, be of equal population, use existing geographic and political boundaries, not divide communities of common interest and be connected by transportation links. Districts also cannot be drawn to favor a political party, incumbent legislator or other person and cannot dilute the voting strength of any language or minority group.
Two House districts must be nestled within the boundaries of a single Senate district.
Garrett said in his decision that the Legislature was allowed to draw its new redistricting map based on many of the current legislative districts, and that the Sheehan-Hazel suit concluded erroneously that the map was intended to protect incumbents.
He wrote: "The fact that the same statutory criteria existed in 2011, when the current district boundaries were adopted, as exist now, and the additional fact that, in many areas, there has been little change in the meantime with respect to those criteria, tends plausibly to explain why many of the lines that divide districts have remained the same."
As a state representative from Lake Oswego, Garrett was the Democratic co-chairman of the House redistricting panel during the 2011 session. (Garrett was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2014, and to the Supreme Court in 2019.)
Garrett also said that legislation specifically exempted lawmakers from holding in-person public hearings about redistricting maps in Oregon's five current congressional districts, a change from the usual legal requirement. (Senate and House committees had been prepared to do so, but because of an outbreak of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus, they conducted a total of 10 virtual public hearings instead in early September.)
Garrett also said that while the Senate and House committees asked people to focus on the maps offered by the Democratic and Republican caucuses during oral testimony, they did not restrict written testimony and did not limit testimony about other proposals. Sheehan and Hazel had asked the court to substitute a proposal labeled "Equitable Map Oregon Plan."
Garrett said Sheehan and Hazel alleged, without evidence, that some districts were drawn to favor Democrats in areas that as a whole lean Republican.
He wrote: "Petitioners' relatively superficial discussion of a few legislative districts in the (Legislature's) reapportionment map is legally insufficient to establish that those districts — much less the entire map, which is what petitioners challenge — were drawn for an unlawful purpose."
Lawyers for the Oregon Department of Justice represented the Legislature.
Sheehan and Hazel were represented by Kevin Mannix, a Salem lawyer, former legislator, two-time candidate for governor (2002 and 2006) and attorney general (1996 as a Democrat, 2000), and 2008 candidate for the 5th District U.S. House seat.
Calderwood and Culbertson were represented in part by Shawn Lindsay, a Portland lawyer and a one-term Republican state representative from Hillsboro. During the 2011 session, Lindsay was the Republican co-chairman of the House redistricting panel, sharing the leadership with Garrett. The plan passed by the 2011 Legislature was not challenged in court, the first time in a century that lawmakers adopted a legislative redistricting plan without intervention by the secretary of state or the courts.
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