Friday, May 20, 2011

Ruling? What ruling?

Ruling? What ruling? Such is the mindset of the Gang of Five that runs Madison County after a federal court threw out its lawsuit to extend qualifying deadlines this week. The Madison County Board of Supervisors approved a redistricting plan after the qualifying deadline of March 1. Naturally they approved plans that moved opponents into other districts and completely turned some districts literally on their head. See earlier post on redistricting that has video and maps, Copy of decision.

The Madison County Journal reported this week:

"Madison County officials say they will ignore a federal judge's order to use existing district lines in the 2011 elections and will attempt to get Justice Department approval of their controversial reapportionment plan.

Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr., on Monday ruled that Madison County could not extend qualifying deadlines for county elections to June 1 because, among other things, there wasn't enough time to reapportion district lines and the county lacked legal standing to bring a case.

However, Madison County Board of Supervisors Attorney Eric Hamer said the ruling doesn't impact the county's original course of action and predicts the new lines will stand.

Hmmmm...... changing district lines after the qualifying deadline. That is constitutional?

Meanwhile, what exactly did Monday's ruling mean? I meant to analyze the court's ruling in a separate post but since these new developments took place, I'll include it here.

The opinion handed down by the District Court makes two clear statements: 1) The plaintiffs had no standing to bring these lawsuits.
2) Since the counties could not complete the redistricting process by the March 1 qualifying deadline, they must run under the old district lines.

The Court dismissed all plaintiffs on grounds that every one of them lacked standing in the first part of the opinion. Keep in mind when a court dismisses a suit based on jurisdictional or standing issues, it does not delve into the merits of the suit.

However, the Court goes on to provide pages of alternative reasoning for their conclusion. There was no need for them to keep writing, so why did the Court do it? They wanted to give us a clear set of rules for conducting the election this year's county elections. The court's logic is judicial relief is only appropriate when a legislative body – i.e., a board of supervisors – fails to reapportion in a timely fashion “after having had an adequate opportunity to do so.” Supervisors this year did not have enough time to accomplish redistricting between receiving data and the qualifying date, so all their efforts this year fail.

So what is a permissible redistricting plan? Permissible redistricting depends on – you guessed it – the time-tested standard of reasonableness. Before you can call an existing plan unconstitutional, the board of supervisors “must have adequate time to formulate a redistricting plan and obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice,” and must be guided by “reasonableness.” When a board re-draws district lines, some time can pass between the receipt of census data and the redistricting. However, it is unreasonable to do what the plaintiff counties did this year or in Madison's case, imposed new lines after a qualifying deadline.

"None of the counties has been able to complete the redistricting process prior to the expiration of the qualifying deadline, despite some having made advance preparations to do so. There is simply an insufficient amount of time for the County Boards of Supervisors to receive and evaluate the 2010 decennial census data, to redistrict each County in order to remedy any malapportionment, and to comply with State election statutes. Under the circumstances . . . the 2011 elections in the affected Counties must be conducted as they are presently configured."

What about the phrase “and absent Justice Department preclearance of the submitted plans?” It doesn't matter as we will run under the old lines, and Justice Department approval is irrelevant this year and had nothing to do with the standing issue. The Court makes this clear by recounting the facts of the Watkins decision. In Watkins, the legislature had enough time to draft a reapportionment plan and submit it to the Justice Department for approval. That is the only set of facts reasonable and acceptable for reapportionment, and “[t]hose circumstances do not exist” in the 2011 cases. The three counties ( – including Madison County – ) submitting redistricting plans to the Department of Justice this year “did so after the March 1 qualifying deadline the Plaintiffs wish to modify or enjoin.” The only possible implication from the Court’s opinion is that these three counties acted unreasonably in the reapportion process this year. A board of supervisors “must have adequate time to formulate a redistricting plan and obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice,” and the counties this year did not have that time to reapportion. The county cases this year simply did not have enough time reasonably to enact a reapportionment plan and to submit it to DOJ for approval. Therefore, the Court went above and beyond the standing analysis to conclude that this year, we will run under the old lines.


Anonymous said...

KF, any way to make sure SoS has this info? That office would be the only ones who could step in and tell them "no".

bill said...

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the only person who is risking a contempt citation here is Lee Westbrook. She's the one who has to take the action the Board of Supervisors is calling for, so she and her lawyer will be the patsies that the board sacrifices to their lost cause. Bill Billingsley

Anderson said...

""Madison County officials say they will ignore a federal judge's order--"

You can stop reading right there.

Anonymous said...

Lee Westbrook is an elected official just like the Supervisors are. She cuicuit clerk and does not answer to the board of supervisors. I know Lee and I worked elections with her. She will abide by the federal judges ruling regardless of what the supervisors want. We all know why the supervisors are taking the stand that they are.

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