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Idaho Supreme Court upholds new legislative district map

by REBECCA BOONE Associated Press
| January 28, 2022 1:00 AM

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BOISE (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld the state's new map redrawing Idaho's 35 legislative districts, finding that four separate lawsuits against the Idaho Commission for Reapportionment failed to show that the way the map split some counties was unreasonable.

The unanimous ruling written by Justice John Stegner was released Thursday afternoon.

The bipartisan Idaho Commission for Reapportionment is tasked every 10 years with redrawing voting districts based on the most recent census, attempting to create districts with about 52,000 residents each. The commission is required to map new legislative districts that do not have more than a 10% population variance, and they are supposed to avoid dividing counties into multiple districts as much as possible.

After the new legislative map was released last year, former state lawmaker Branden Durst sued, contending it was unconstitutional because it split more counties than necessary.

Commissioners in Ada County also sued over the number of county splits, and Spencer Stucki, a Chubbuck resident, sued to challenge the way districts are redrawn in southeastern Idaho.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe in northern Idaho and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in southern Idaho filed a lawsuit as well, contending that the map wrongly split their respective reservations into different districts without regard for the fact that they are each "communities of interest" that should be maintained together as much as possible.

In the ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court acknowledged the difficult job faced by the redistricting commission, especially given Idaho's unique geography and the different federal and state redistricting rules at play.

The U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause requires the commission to create districts that are as equal in population as possible, to ensure that each resident's vote gets the same weight. The Idaho Constitution, meanwhile, says the commission can't split more counties than it reasonably determines is necessary when drawing the map.

"Navigating this tension is no easy feat," Stegner wrote, calling the work a "delicate balancing act."

"To perform that balancing act as quickly and thoroughly as the Commission did, resulting in a legislative plan with unanimous bipartisan support on behalf of all six commissioners, is certainly laudable," Stegner wrote.

Durst and the others who sued failed to show that the commission "unreasonably determined" that drafted maps that split fewer counties didn't comply with the equal protection rules.

In the lawsuit from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the Tribes cited a long history of discrimination within the state and contended that given their long history of being a well-established community, that it is "self-evident that the Tribes' interests in unity and maintaining their voting power should receive the same respect, if not more, than Idaho's counties or cities do during the redistricting process."

Stegner acknowledged that argument in the ruling but said that isn't how the state law is written.

"We are unable to raise community interests, such as the Tribes', above the counties' interests, which are protected to a greater degree by the Idaho Constitution," Stegner wrote. "To afford the Tribes the heightened status they seek, an amendment to the state constitution would be required."

The Idaho Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling on a fifth lawsuit from Elmore County resident Christopher Pentico that targets the way the new U.S. congressional district map splits some local voting precinct boundary lines. Oral arguments in that case were held Monday.

Under L03, all of Boundary County and most of Bonner County would remain in District 1. A southwestern portion on Bonner County —encompassing the Spirit Lake and Blanchard areas — would be moved into the new District 2. Areas on the southeastern portion of the county, including Sagle, would be moved from District 7 into District 1.

Under the map, current District 1 Sen. Jim Woodward and Sage Dixon, representative for current District 1B seat, would remain in the newly configured District 1. Heather Scott, representative for the current District 1A seat, would be in the newly configured District 2.