May 19, 2024 1:39 pm

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US Supreme Court denies request by Republican Latino voters to pause the Lasnik redistricting map

Washinton, D.C.—An emergency application for an injunction to the adoption of an alleged gerrymandered court-approved redistricting map ordered by Judge Robert Lasnik of the District Court of Western Washington, was denied on Monday, April 2, by United States Supreme Court Justices whom Justice Elena Kagan, assigned to the Ninth Circuit Court, referred the matter. As it currently stands, the Lasnik map will be implemented for the 2024 General Election.

lasnik map
The alleged gerrymandered court-approved map by Judge Robert Lasnik of the District Court of Western Washington. SOURCE: Court documents.

The order from the court reads, “The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is denied.” There was no further explanation nor justification for the ruling.

jim walsh
Jim Walsh

“The US Supreme Court’s failure to issue a stay in this controversial lawsuit is disappointing,” wrote WAGOP Chairman and State Representative Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen). “By allowing Judge Lasnik’s partisan electioneering to stand, SCOTUS is opening itself up for partisan lawsuits from all around the country. This isn’t the last manipulation the high court will have to consider. I hope they do better next time.”

The emergency request for a stay to the implementation of the lower court order on March 15 may have been denied but the litigants are expected to pursue final action by the U.S. Supreme Court which can take several months to years but there is a second constitutional claim still being litigated before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

john braun
John Braun

“The Supreme Court is always unlikely to act on a case before it is fully litigated,” Washington State Senator John Braun released in a statement. “That played a large role in this case whose constitutional claims are still being litigated before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Regardless, it is abjectly unfair that national Democrat special interest groups led by Matt Barreto from UCLA partnered with Washington state legislative leaders to foist this discriminatory map upon Washington state Hispanics. They were aided in their efforts by an abysmal defense by Attorney General Bob Ferguson whose partisan bias was properly called out in the briefs of the case.”

Adoption of Lasnik’s redistricting map impacts 500,000 voters within 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.

Lasnik map
The bipartisan-approved redistricting map of the Washington State Redistricting Board and approved by the Washington State Legislature.

The court-ordered 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).

Lasnik map
Robert Lasnik

Judge Lasnik, on March 15, 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.

The application for an emergency injunction to the Lasnik map 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.

Key points the lawyers for Trevino et al argued are that the District Court failed to analyze the causation of the Lasnik map adequately and that it is unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

“The evidence at trial made clear that racially polarized voting only existed in the Yakima Valley for partisan contests between White Democrats and White Republicans and disappeared in all other races lacking these conditions,” the emergency request for an injunction reads.

“The district court refused even to attempt to address how Senator Torres’s landslide victory was consistent with its finding that Hispanic voters were denied equal opportunity on the basis of race… But the district court declined to even disclose Senator Torres’s over-35-point margin of victory over her White Democrat opponent—let alone analyze how such a landslide was consistent with vote-dilution caused by race.”

They further argued that the Lasnik map, resembling the shape of an “octopus slithering along the ocean floor,” further illustrates a “quintessential example of unlawful gerrymandering.”

“Race-motivated district lines with ‘bizarre shapes’ are typically subject to strict scrutiny and presumptively unconstitutional… And as noted, court-drawn redistricting plans face even ‘stricter standards’ than those drawn by State legislatures themselves,” the injunction request reads.

The Plaintiffs’ key counterargument in its response to the emergency injunction was that the Trevino et al “never raised concerns that any of Plaintiffs’ proposed maps or the remedial map adopted by the district court would be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Instead, Intervenors complained that the maps were overtly partisan and further diluted Hispanic voting strength.”

“Bottom line, this map DECREASES the Hispanic voting population in the new Yakima Valley majority minority district,” Senator Braun wrote in his statement on the Justices denying the injunction. “In addition, it disenfranchises the first eastern Washington Latina Senator by redistricting her out of her district, preventing her Hispanic constituents from receiving her outstanding service after the end of her term in two years.”

Applications for an emergency action is addressed to a specific Justice, according to federal judicial circuit. Four general criteria, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, that an applicant typically must satisfy to be granted a stay are:

  1. That there is a “reasonable probability” that four Justices will grant certiorari, or agree to review the merits of the case;
  2. That there is a “fair prospect” that a majority of the Court will conclude upon review that the decision below on the merits was erroneous;
  3. That irreparable harm will result from the denial of the stay;
  4. Finally, in a close case, the Circuit Justice may find it appropriate to balance the equities, by exploring the relative harms to the applicant and respondent, as well as the interests of the public at large.

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. MilliganMoore 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
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.

2 Responses

  1. I hope Mario covers gerrymandering by Republicans here and across-the-board. Just to keep this news source bipartisan.

    1. There no recent reports of gerrymandering by the Republican Party in Washington state as there is a bipartisan Washington Redistricting Board. A Clinton-appointed judge decided to override the bipartisan approved map that was also approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature and signed into law by Jay Inslee. This is an issue related to Washington state, so the scope will remain on Washington state. Washington state does not utilize a legislature-developed map process like other states in the union.

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