Clovis district judge makes wise decision on congressional maps


April 27, 2022

Despite the best efforts of the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee to draw nonpartisan, fair districts for key state elections, the Legislature couldn’t dodge a lawsuit over redistricting.

That lawsuit, which zeroed in on how New Mexico’s three congressional districts were redrawn, is going forward.

A wise judge, however, ruled it’s too late to start over for the upcoming election — races for Congress will proceed using the disputed maps. But at a later date, Republicans will have the opportunity to prove their case, which alleges Democrats in the Legislature drew districts with an eye to reducing the strength of conservative voters in the 2nd Congressional District.

The new maps, the state Republican Party and other plaintiffs claim, represent pure partisan — and illegal — gerrymandering.

For years, the three congressional districts split the state — the 3rd District took in the north, the 1st encompassed the Albuquerque area and the 2nd covered much of Southern New Mexico.

That 2nd District has long skewed conservative. Even when voters there have elected a Democrat to Congress, he or she generally fails to win reelection.

Current GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell beat incumbent Democrat Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in 2020 after just one term. Torres Small’s defeat left Democrats in the Legislature seething, and with redistricting on the horizon, they had an opportunity to do something about it.

New maps were made necessary by demographic changes in the 2020 census. The final version adopted by the Legislature in 2021 and signed by the governor had its basis in the so-called People’s Map produced by the independent Citizens Redistricting Committee. That the final maps are based on one from the committee will be one defense these maps aren’t partisan gerrymandering. But it’s an argument that may go nowhere.

State District Judge Fred Van Soelen of Clovis certainly gave that indication last week when he allowed the GOP lawsuit to proceed. But the judge also ruled this year’s elections will be held using the disputed maps. With the primary election approaching, Van Soelen’s decision was, at minimum, level-headed. Rather than throw the process into almost unimaginable uncertainty and turmoil, elections can go forward and the court case can continue.

With each district holding a combination of rural and urban voters, supporters of the map claim all three are microcosms of the state — and they might be right. But as we’ve learned in previous redistricting fights, being right and getting your way are two different things.

For now, the maps are set.

Was it too much to hope new maps could be adopted without a lawsuit? Perhaps. And Democrats in the Legislature should remember that — selfish tinkering usually ends up with the courts drawing the lines. But at least Judge Van Soelen had the good sense to make the best of a bad situation.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican


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