May 22, 2024 7:19 pm

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Clinton-appointed judge redistricts out Washington Republican lawmakers

SEATTLE—Judge Robert Lasnik, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, ordered the adoption of a redistricting map that impacts the boundaries of 13 legislative districts—12 Republican and 1 Democratic—and which redistricts out several Republican and no Democratic lawmakers ahead of 2024 General Election.

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The original Washington State Redistricted Map approved by the Washington Legislature on February 8, 2022, and went into effect in November of 2022. SOURCE: District Maps & Handouts (wa.gov)

Judge Lasnik’s decision stems from a January 19, 2022, challenge to the legislative redistricting plan drawn by the Washington State Redistricting Commission and approved by the Washington Legislature. Plaintiff Susan Soto Palmer and seven others, alleged that Legislative District 15 was drawn “to create the façade of a Latino opportunity district but in fact dilutes Latino voting power in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.”

The plaintiffs further argued that the approved redistricting map in the Yakima Valley and Pasco by the Legislature, “is unlikely to afford Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.”

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Judge Robert Lasnik

Judge Lasnik denied the plaintiff’s requests for an injunction to not implement the legislature-approved Washington State Redistricting Commission map in place for the 2022 election cycle. The case went to trail in June of 2023, where Judge Lansik ruled on August 10, 2023, that the legislature-approved Washington State Redistricting Commission map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act— prohibiting voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership—and must be redrawn.

“[T]he Court finds that the boundaries of LD 15, in combination with the social, economic, and historical conditions in the Yakima Valley region, results in an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by white and Latino voters in the area,” Judge Lansik wrote in his August opinion.

The decision was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on September 8, 2023, and on November 3, a petition for a writ of certiorari was filed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On February 20, 2024, the Supreme Court denied the intervenor-defendants’ petition.

An evidentiary hearing took place in March 2024 for which Judge Lansik made his ruling on Friday, March 15, selecting Remedial Map 3B that was drawn by consultants, not the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission.

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The Lasnik-approved map that redistricts 13 legislative districts, scheduled to take effect this year if not overturned. SOURCE: https://x.com/JimWalshLD19/status/1768764056708812873

“WA voters should be disturbed by the opinion issued today from federal Judge Robert Lasnik in the matter of WA’s recent legislative redistricting plan,” Jim Walsh, Washington State Republican Party Chair and House Representative of the 19th District posted to X. “The opinion is a heavy-handed, partisan usurpation of the Washington Redistricting Commission’s lawful and orderly work.”

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Nikki Torres

In a press release by Latina Senator Nikki Torres (R-Yakima Valley), who represents Legislative District 15, center of the map dispute, she calls the judge’s actions a “mockery of the Voting Rights Act.”

“The Voting Rights Act was supposed to empower affected minority populations,” she wrote, “This map DECREASES the number of Hispanics in the Majority Minority district and redistricts out the first Hispanic Senator in eastern Washington history.”

If the map stands, Republican Senator Torres along with fellow Republican senators Curtis King, who represents the 14th Legislative District and is the ranking Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee, and Brad Hawkins, who represents the 12th Legislative District and is the ranking Republican on the District Early Learning & K-12 Education, to be redistricted out.

Torres also alleges that three House Republican members will also be redistricted out. No Democratic Party lawmakers from either chamber of the legislature will be redistricted out, according to the Lasnik map.

“This map DISENFRANCHISES Hispanics – all to help the Democratic party gain seats towards a supermajority in the legislature,” she adds.

In an X post on October 12, 2023, Washington State Democratic Party Chair, Shasti Conrad, signaled that her goal was for her party to be a supermajority by 2026.

Conrad praised Judge Lasnik’s decision of choosing Remedial Map 3B.

“Today is a great day for democracy as Washington state gains a new legislative district map that prioritizes diverse voices,” Conrad wrote. “We greatly appreciate that Washington’s judiciary recognized the need to rectify systemic racism in the central region of our state. This is a sensible map which upholds our state’s Constitutional requirements and empowers voters in Central Washington. Our Party will be working overtime to engage and activate constituent communities in the 14th Legislative District in this year’s elections and build our Democratic majority.”

Washington Republican Party Chair, Jim Walsh, told the Lynnwood Times in a phone conversation on March 15 that Republican House Minority Leader, Andrew Stokesbary, an attorney who is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, is in the process of filing an emergency appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Lasnik’s opinion is a mistake,” wrote Walsh on X. “It actually DILUTES the number of Latino voters in the key district. It makes a mess of a dozen LDs. It needs to be stayed & appealed. A less-partisan appeals court will likely develop a more reasonable solution to WA’s redistricting issues.”

Republican Senate Leader, John Braun, called the Lasnik map, “shameful.”

“That this judge would allow the Voting Rights Act to be used to redistrict Sen. Torres out of her district is frankly outrageous,” wrote Braun in a statement to the Lynnwood Times. “The Voting Rights Act was designed to help our minority citizens, not disenfranchise them.  In this case, the judge also reduces the number of Hispanics in central Washington’s majority minority district.”

He shared that Washington State Senate and House Democrats refused to reconvene the bipartisan Redistricting panel “because they knew that the bipartisan mechanism in it would foil their desire for gerrymandered maps.  This decision is not a repudiation of the Commission.  It is a repudiation of current Democratic legislative leadership.”

Below are the known impacts, according to Senator Torres, of the Lasnik-map for Washington state:

  • LOWERS the numbers of Hispanics from the current 52.6% to 50.2% (comparing LD’s 14 and 15).
  • Moves the first eastern Washington Latina elected Senator – Senator Nikki Torres – from the district which she won handily into a wholly new district with another incumbent Republican Senator – LD 16.
  • Redistricts out Sen. Curtis King (LD 14).
  • Redistricts out Sen. Brad Hawkins (LD 12).
  • Likely redistricts out three Republican House members.
  • Eliminates the Yakima Valley district that is a “toss-up” swing district (+1.8% GOP) and packs the other Yakima Valley district, which is already heavily Republican (+9.4% GOP), with more Republicans (+21.7% GOP). This allows the “toss-up” district to become solidly Democrat (+12%).
  • Transforms a SW Washington district (LD 17) and another central Washington district (LD 12) into much more competitive districts for Democrats.
  • Makes a massive disruption of people throughout the state. More than 500,000 people are moved affecting 13 districts – 12 of which are Republican and 1 Democrat. In comparison, the intervenors offered a map with around 80,000 people moved in only three districts. The intervenor map was rejected. Legally, maps are supposed to make the minimal changes needed to remedy the violation.

Judge Robert Lasnik was nominated to the federal District Court of Western Washington by former President Bill Clinton (D) on May 11, 1998, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on October 21, 1998. He received his commission the following day and is now a senior judge for the court.

Prior to his appointment, Lasnik served as a superior court judge on the King County Superior Court and worked in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as a senior deputy prosecutor and chief of staff.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 8:39 p.m., March 15, 2024, to include a statement from Senator John Braun.

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