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Legal challenges pour in as Colorado Supreme Court is set to review new congressional map

Latino advocacy groups, Democratic organizations and counties filed objections to the map, which awaits review by the Supreme Court

The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center is seen on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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Latino advocacy groups, Colorado Common Cause and national Democratic groups are objecting to a new Colorado U.S. House map on the grounds that it would unconstitutionally dilute the influence of the state’s Latino residents, according to documents filed with the Supreme Court Friday.  

“The Latino community in Colorado has been growing quickly, and the new maps this year need to reflect that,” said Mark Gaber, senior director of redistricting at the national Campaign Legal Center, which is representing the League of United Latin American Citizens. “The map adopted by the Commission fails that standard and should be rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court.”

The map also received objections about splitting Jefferson and Eagle counties, as well as criticism that the commissioners were too focused on political competitiveness over higher constitutional priorities, such as representing communities with shared interests. 

The Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, which lobbied the commission on behalf of Republicans, didn’t object to the proposed map, which Democrats have said favors the GOP more than it should.

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The challenges filed Friday, the deadline for submissions to the court, come as the Supreme Court begins its review of the proposed congressional map. While Colorado’s highest court has typically been the final step in the redistricting process, this year is the first time the map-drawing process has been overseen by an independent commission under rules created by Amendment Y,  which Colorado voters passed in 2018. 

Several of the objections argue the congressional commission failed to take into account language under the state constitution that goes beyond the protections of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

“Amendment Y explicitly provides an additional protection the Voting Rights Act does not,” the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization said in a statement. 

That additional language requires the commission to consider other factors when assessing the voting strength of a minority group. At least two districts in the proposed map, the 3rd and 8th Congressional Districts, include Latino voters in the same district as blocs of white voters who have voted against Latino-preferred candidates, a form of vote dilution the commission failed to take into account, CLLARO argued in its court filing. 

Former State Senator Polly Baca speaks on Tuesday, August 10, 2021, at La Alma-Lincoln Park in Denver. Leaders from the Latino community showed legislative maps drawn by CLLARO to be submitted to the Independent Redistricting Commission. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The commission also failed to properly analyze voting rights issues, Colorado Common Cause argued, noting that the commission did not hire an outside expert or pay for a study of racial voting behavior. 

In a pleading to the court Friday, lawyers for the congressional commission argued that language in the state constitution is virtually the same as the VRA, and anything further could put “Colorado law on a collision course with the Equal Protection Clause” and risk running afoul of federal law.

A number of groups aligned with national Democrats also weighed in. 

All On The Line Colorado, which is associated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, also disputed the adopted map for diluting the voting strength of Hispanic residents, specifically in the new 8th Congressional District that stretches from the northern Denver suburbs to Greeley.

The commission’s “flawed legal understanding” produced an 8th District that “doesn’t actually create meaningful opportunity for Latinos to influence an election,” Marco Dorado, Colorado director for All on the Line, said in a statement. 

The 8th District should have included Longmont instead of Brighton, which the group said has agricultural interests more in common with the Eastern Plains in the 4th District.

At least one group, the Colorado Multiethnic Coalition, made up of Hispanic churches in the north Denver metro area, said the new maps would elevate the voices of Hispanic voters by making the 8th District, which would have a Hispanic population of 38.5%, the most competitive. 

“To win in District 8, both political parties will have to compete for Hispanic voters. In that regard, Hispanic voices will be given greater weight than ever before,” according to the coalition’s court filing. 

MORE: A new Colorado congressional map is before the Supreme Court. Now the legal battles begin.

Fair Lines Colorado, another Democratic group, disputed the logic behind the new 7th Congressional District, which “stretches from the northern tip of the City & County of Broomfield to the southern tip of Custer County.”

“At no point was a community of interest … identified for the 7th District,” the group’s attorney, Mark Grueskin, wrote in a court filing. 

The current 7th District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada, includes much of Jefferson County and stretches across Adams County. The group’s brief said it had no complaints about other districts, including the 8th.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports candidates for the U.S. House, urged the court to “carefully consider the various alternative configurations advanced by other(s).” It called the commission’s process “a harried and compressed schedule of public hearings” and noted that when the final vote on a map was taken “two Commissioners expressed confusion as to what they were actually voting on.”

Attorneys for Douglas and Summit counties wrote in support of the proposed map, while commissioners in Eagle objected to dividing the county between two districts. 

Jerry Natividad, a resident of Jefferson County and Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2016, filed an objection arguing the map unnecessarily “slices and dices” Jefferson County among multiple districts and fails to create a politically competitive 7th Congressional District. 

The court will hear oral arguments at 1 p.m. Oct. 12, and will issue a decision on whether to approve the map or send it back to the commission no later than Nov. 1. 

If the court rejects the map, the congressional commission would have 12 days to hold a public hearing and come up with a plan that meets the courts objections. If the commission can’t agree on such a plan, the nonpartisan staff would have three more days to draw a map that would address the court’s objections.


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