Colorado Supreme Court hears oral arguments for new state legislative maps

Opponents mainly disagree with split of Lakewood, Greeley

By: - October 26, 2021 5:55 pm

The Colorado Supreme Court on July 7, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

While the recently redrawn state House and Senate district maps face fewer legal objections than their congressional counterpart, they must still clear the Colorado Supreme Court before going into effect. 

The objections to those maps revolve around the argument that they split up cities like Lakewood and Greeley without justification and don’t create enough competitive districts.

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Nine groups submitted briefs to the Colorado Supreme Court in response to the proposed legislative maps, with five raising specific objections. The court heard oral arguments on those filings on Oct. 25. 

This is the last step in a months-long process that saw two independent commissions redraw the state’s legislative and congressional lines for the first time, rather than relying on politicians. The Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission was in charge of both the state House and Senate maps, deciding the boundaries for the state’s 100 legislative districts. 

Most of the objections to the legislative maps focused on specific regions that got split up in the shuffle. 

In its brief, the attorneys for the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization argued that the legislative commission prioritized communities of interest in its House map, but not the Senate map, which splits the city of Lakewood. It used public testimony as evidence that Lakewood should remain whole.

“There is a lack of public comment supporting the split of Lakewood in the approved Senate Map. Unlike other communities of interest, the Legislative Commission never provided a description of the community of interest it believed justified this split,” the brief reads.

The new Colorado House districts map approved by the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission on Oct. 12, 2021. Click the map to view an interactive version. (Screenshot from Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions)

Fair Lines Colorado, a Democratic-aligned group, also opposes the Senate map because of the Lakewood split.

Fair Lines Colorado and CLLARO both support the approved House map. 

Richard Kaufman, the attorney for the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission who spoke to the court on Monday, said that the commission was justified in splitting Lakewood because it preserved a community of interest in Wheat Ridge and Lakewood and along Sheridan Boulevard. The split was therefore necessary for numerical reasons, he said. 

“The commission preserved these two communities of interest in Senate District 22. However, placing these two interests together resulted in a district that could not contain all of Lakewood at one time,” he said. 

Doris Morgan filed a challenge as a resident that argued that Pueblo West, an unincorporated community in Pueblo County, should be preserved in a single House district. The commission-approved map splits the area between House Districts 60 and 47. 

“The Final Plan, if approved by this Court, would diminish the ability of Pueblo West citizens to obtain fair and effective representation on significant matters of concern — including shared interests in public policy concerns such as education, recreation, governance, environment, transportation, water needs and supplies, and issues of regional significance,” her brief reads. 

Pueblo West, however, is not a political subdivision, so the commission did not need to prioritize keeping it whole, Kaufman said. He said that if the area were kept whole, it would cause a “ripple effect” in the map.

“This isn’t one of those cases where you can move a line around and it doesn’t have any impact to the rest of the map,” he said.

While the Final Plans are not perfect, and are not the maps Colorado Republicans would have drawn, they are a result of a faithful application of the agreed-upon constitutional criteria for redistricting by the Commission and should therefore be approved by this Court.

– From a joint brief filed by Colorado Republicans with the state Supreme Court

Tom Norton, a Republican and former mayor of Greeley, opposed both the House and Senate maps because of how they divide Greeley. He argued that division was “entirely driven by racial considerations” and wrote that dividing Greeley in order to increase the Hispanic population in Senate District 13 violates equal protection guarantees. 

“By choosing to divide the City of Greeley to serve this race conscious purpose, and apparently no other purpose that is evident from the record … the Commission plainly subordinated race-neutral criteria, such as ‘political, social, and economic’ ties, to ‘racial considerations,’” he wrote.

He suggested that remanding the map so Greeley is kept whole in a single Senate district would be an easy fix and not create a domino effect that unravels the rest of the boundaries. 

Fair Lines Colorado, however, argued in its brief that the commission had cause to split Greeley because of the economic, racial and cultural differences between the east and west sides of the city. The commission adequately preserved a racial or ethnic community of interest by dividing the city, the group argued. 

Kaufman agreed with that logic while defending the commission’s decision to split Greeley.

“This was done because east Greeley has significantly different legislative issues,” he said.

Lynn Gerber, a Republican who lives in Jefferson County, opposes both the House and Senate maps on the basis that they do not maximize competitiveness. Her brief does not point out specific House or Senate districts that could be more competitive with a tweaking of the lines.  

Kaufman argued that the commission used appropriate discretion because it applied other requirements, such as communities of interest and fulfilling the Voting Rights Act, before looking at competitiveness.

“When you look at all the factors above that in the hierarchy, the plan that we submitted to this court is better than the plan that has 20 (competitive) districts. Competitiveness is down the list,” he said.

Colorado Republicans support the adoption of both maps and submitted a joint brief between the Colorado Republican Committee, Republican State Senate Caucus and Republican State House Caucus.

“While the Final Plans are not perfect, and are not the maps Colorado Republicans would have drawn, they are a result of a faithful application of the agreed-upon constitutional criteria for redistricting by the Commission and should therefore be approved by this Court,” that brief reads.

Pictured is the final congressional district map approved on Sept. 28, 2021, by the Colorado Independent Congressional Commission. Click on the map for an interactive version. (Screenshot from Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions)

The legislative maps are facing fewer, and simpler, objections than the congressional maps, which opponents argued diluted the voting power of the state’s Latino and Hispanic populations. Colorado Common Cause and All on the Line, two groups against the congressional maps, did not file challenges to the legislative ones. 

“The Legislative Commission raises none of the concerns allegedly arising under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution that the Congressional Commission raised before this Court,” Mark Grueskin, the attorney for Fair Lines Colorado, wrote in the group’s brief. “This Commission got it right.”

The Colorado Supreme Court has until Nov. 15 to issue an opinion on the legislative maps and until Nov. 1 to issue an opinion on the congressional map. If it rejects either, the court will send it back to the commission with instructions for what needs to change.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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