May 21, 2024 10:16 pm

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Republicans fighting for Latino representation as WA state redistricting dispute heads to US Supreme Court

SEATTLE—On Friday, March 22, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request to stay (put on hold) the adoption of a redistricting map ordered by Judge Robert Lasnik, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, on March 15. The matter now heads to the United States Supreme Court where Justice Elena Kagan, who is assigned to the Nine Circuit Court, is to review the emergency request of stay that was filed today, March 25.

The Lasnik-approved map that redistricts 13 legislative districts, scheduled to take effect this year if not overturned. SOURCE:

Adoption of Lasnik’s redistricting map impacts the boundaries of 13 legislative districts—12 Republican and one Democratic—and redistricts out three Washington state senators and two House members, who are all Republicans, ahead of 2024 General Election; no Democratic lawmaker seats from either chamber will be impacted.

john braun
John Braun

“Using Judge Lasnik’s maps for elections is nothing but a judicial gerrymander,” Senator John Braun, Republican Leader, released in a statement following reaction to Friday’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. “These gerrymandered maps violate numerous state redistricting laws… These gerrymandered maps displace 500,000 people [6.4% of the state’s population] from thirteen districts around the state, when intervenors showed it could be done with only 80,000 people and 3 districts.”

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.

robert lasnik
Judge Robert Lasnik

The Lasnik map eliminates the Yakima Valley district that is a “toss-up” swing district and now gives Democrats a +14.4% district in same region. The Washington State Redistricting Commission maps, approved by the Washington Legislature on February 8, 2022, constructed a 73% Hispanic majority minority district with more than 50% of it being Hispanic Citizens of Voting Age Population (HCVAP).

Judge Lasnik agreed with plaintiff Susan Soto Palmer and seven others, who 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 Lasnik map lowers the numbers of Hispanics from the current 52.6% to 50.2% (comparing LD’s 14 and 15) and redistricts out the first eastern Washington Latina elected Senator – Senator Nikki Torres – from her district.

Chair of the Washington State Republican Party, Jim Walsh, told the Lynnwood Times that judge Lasnik’s map is an attack on the “bipartisan” and “fair-minded” Washington State Redistricting Commission for which the legislature, who represent millions of Washingtonians, overwhelming approved.

jim walsh
Jim Walsh

“Judge Lasnik’s opinion is wrong, it is partisan and not fair-minded,” Walsh told the Lynnwood Times. “His opinion is not so much only an attack on Republicans, it is an attack on the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission. The dispute is over a judge’s map versus the approach of the fair-minded bipartisan commission. That is what this appeal is about. That is what Republicans and fair-minded people are fighting around Washington, is judge Lasnik’s opinion.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kagan will now determine if to place to an injunction on the implementation of the Lasnik map for the 2024 General Election while an appeal with the high court is pursued.

“We can only hope that at some point, the United States Supreme Court will right the wrong that has been done in this process,” said Senator Braun.

The application for an emergency stay was filed on behalf of Jose Trevino, Ismael G. Campos, Representative Alex Ybarra against Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Susan Soto Palmer, Alberto Macias, Fabiola Lopez, Caty Padilla, and Heliodora.

Unlike the most recent partisan legislative-dominant gerrymandering cases in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Alabama, heard by the U.S. Supreme Court— Merrill v. Milligan, Moore v. Harper, and Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP—Washington state utilizes a bipartisan redistricting commission. Every 10 years, after the federal government publishes updated census information, the five-member independent bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission redraws the boundaries of the state’s congressional and legislative electoral districts to ensure that each district represents an equal number of residents fairly.

For 2021, the Washington State Redistricting Board of commissioners were Sarah Augustine, Chair, April Sims, House Democratics Caucus Appointee, Paul Graves, House Republican Caucus Appointee, Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, Senate Democratics Caucus Appointee, and Joe Fain, Senate Republican Caucus Appointee.

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).
  • Redistricts out two Republican House members—Chris Corry and Gina Mosbrucker
  • 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.
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 called Judge Lasnik’s order 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.

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