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Judge sides with Democrats in Oregon redisricting dispute

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A judge has found that new congressional districts passed by Oregon Democrats meet all legal criteria, with little evidence they amount to blatant partisan gerrymandering.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the tentative opinion, released Monday by retired state Judge Henry Breithaupt, is not the final word in an ongoing lawsuit, in which Republicans are seeking to have the new six-district congressional map redrawn. Breithaupt is acting as a “special master” in the case, tasked with making findings of fact for a five-judge panel that will decide the outcome.

Following the latest U.S. Census Oregon received an additional seat in the U.S. House— increasing the number of congressional districts from five to six. There are currently four Democratic U.S. House members from Oregon and one Republican.

The findings by Breithaupt suggest Republicans have failed to prove their insistence that Democrats purposefully stacked the new congressional maps in their own favor. A lawsuit filed on behalf of former Secretary of State Bev Clarno and three other former Republican elected officials called the map “a clear, egregious partisan gerrymander.”

Breithaupt's opinion relies heavily on a proposed set of facts suggested by the Oregon Department of Justice, which is representing the Legislature in defending the map.

Breithaupt agreed with the state’s contention that the new maps meet statutory criteria requiring them to be of roughly equal populations and contiguous, and to use existing transportation, political and geographic boundaries. The judge also agreed that an additional factor that must be considered — that lawmakers cannot unduly split communities of common interest — was difficult to determine.

The court challenge to Oregon’s congressional map is the state’s first time operating under a new system for resolving such conflicts. Under a law passed in 2013, a panel of five judges — one from each of the state’s current five congressional districts — are the arbiters of the dispute. That panel has until Nov. 24 to decide whether to dismiss legal challenges to the new map.

The congressional map proposed by Democrats was a major sticking point in the special session lawmakers held to pass new political maps in September. Republicans objected to the plan because it spread ultra-liberal Portland between four of the districts. They also took issue with a rejiggered fifth congressional district that now connects Portland to Bend.