The Republican Party of New Mexico on Monday hoped to convince the state Supreme Court to throw out a “pro-Democrat” redistricting map, arguing that the plan affecting Congressional District 2 could keep Republicans from winning any of the state’s three congressional seats this decade.
But an attorney representing state officials contended that the 2021 map creates “a highly competitive district that either party can win.”
After hearing an hour of oral arguments, the Supreme Court had no immediate ruling on the appeal by the Republican Party of an Oct. 6 ruling by state District Judge Fred T. Van Soelen, of Clovis. Van Soelen concluded that the partisan gerrymandering in producing the map didn’t rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
“Some degree of a partisan gerrymander is permissible,” Van Soelen wrote, referencing an earlier Supreme Court ruling. “It is only when partisan gerrymanders are ‘egregious’ that constitutional protections are indicated.”
In the map redrawn by the state Legislature in 2021, District 2’s boundaries include portions of Albuquerque, while the Republican-dominated southeastern corner of the state was split among all three congressional districts. Democrats now control all seats.
Carter Harrison IV, representing the Republican Party, said the 2022 congressional election showed the impact of the dilution of the Republican vote, with Democratic candidate Gabe Vasquez winning by 0.7% of the vote over Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell.
That loss, by roughly 1,300 votes, came even though Republicans nationwide were favored in the 2022 election cycle and Herrell was only one out of two Republican incumbents to lose that year, Harrison told the justices. Vasquez is running for a second term in next year’s election.
Sara Sanchez, an Albuquerque attorney representing New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and legislative leaders, told the court the district court’s ruling should stand.
She said the Republican Party failed to prove that the redrawn map “entrenches the Democratic Party in power.”
Although he ruled in state officials’ favor, Van Soelen concluded that the dilution of the Republican vote was substantial.
But Sanchez told the justices Monday that vote dilution only becomes a “constitutional injury when it rises to the level of effectuating that entrenchment.”