New lawsuit challenges Oregon legislative redistricting
A lawsuit by a former Republican state representative from Clackamas and a lawyer from Lake Oswego have asked the Oregon Supreme Court to overturn the legislative redistricting plan passed by the Legislature's Democratic majorities.
Patrick Sheehan, a real estate agent who was in the Oregon House for one term a decade ago, and Samantha Hazel are represented by Kevin Mannix, a Salem lawyer, former legislator and two-time candidate for both attorney general and governor and 2008 candidate for the 5th District congressional seat. Mannix was a Democrat when first elected to the House in 1988, but he became a Republican in 1997, after he lost his first bid for attorney general in the 1996 Democratic primary.
In their suit filed by the deadline of Monday, they asked the high court to substitute the "Equitable Map Oregon Plan."
They allege that the plan approved in Senate Bill 882 on Sept. 27 violated the legal standards for legislative redistricting, that there were no in-person public hearings and that the hearings that were held focused only on plans submitted by the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
"Failure to consider nonpartisan maps, or even allow testimony on those maps, even when their submission was allowed, violated" Oregon law, the suit alleges.
"This showed that the legislative districts were drawn not based on public input, but instead in regard to the preferences of Oregon's two major political parties. The redistricting process was limited to maps that use political party preferences as a basis. This favored the two major political parties of Oregon, and nothing else."
They said they vetted the fairness of their plan via the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group. The center, based in Washington, D.C., has a tool to measure whether a plan is tilted toward one party or another. Its website said the legislative districting plans in effect in Oregon during the last decade were not skewed in favor of Democrats or Republicans.
Challenges to a legislative redistricting plan go directly to the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for the Legislature and the Oregon Department of Justice have until Nov. 8 to respond to the court about why the approved plan complies with legal and constitutional requirements.
The justices have until Nov. 22 to decide the lawsuit.
If the court decides no changes are required, the plan takes effect Jan. 1 for the 2022 election cycle.
If the court decides there should be changes, an opinion specifying them will be issued by Dec. 6, and Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, the state's chief elections officer, would submit proposed changes by Jan. 17. The court would then face a final deadline of Jan. 31; the amended plan would become final on Feb. 1, slightly more than a month before the March 8 filing deadline for the 2022 primary election.
A separate challenge, led by former Secretary of State Bev Clarno, has been filed against the congressional redistricting plan that lawmakers also approved on Sept. 27. Though the Supreme Court is also the ultimate arbiter of that plan, the initial review will be conducted by a panel of five retired judges named by Chief Justice Martha Walters.
Among the legal standards for redistricting are that districts must be contiguous, be of equal population, use existing geographic and political boundaries, not divide communities of common interest and be connected by transportation links. Districts also cannot be drawn to favor a political party, incumbent legislator or other person and cannot dilute the voting strength of any language or minority group.
Two House districts must be nestled within the boundaries of a single Senate district. Oregon has 30 Senate and 60 House districts.
The Senate and House redistricting committees had planned a series of in-person public hearings around Oregon when they released draft maps on Sept. 3, following the Aug. 12 release of 2020 federal census-block data used to draw maps to account for population shifts in the past decade.
But the onset of the delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus compelled the committees to revert to a series of virtual hearings — two for each of Oregon's five existing U.S. House districts — between Sept. 8 and 13. Committees conducted all hearings and votes online during the 2021 regular session that ended June 26.
No challenges were filed to the 2011 plan that lawmakers came up with for Senate and House districts, the first time in a century that happened in Oregon. The House was split at 30-30; the Senate, 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans.
About a dozen lawsuits were filed against the 2001 legislative redistricting plan drawn up by Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat, after Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed a plan by Republican legislative majorities which initially attempted to impose one by a resolution that does not require the governor's approval. (The Supreme Court ruled later that lawmakers cannot bypass the usual process for legislation when they do redistricting.)
The justices ordered a single correction relating to the population of the federal prison in Sheridan. Bradbury had already acknowledged an error and corrected it.