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Politics and Government

Here are the legal challenges to Colorado’s new legislative maps

Some groups object to splitting Greeley and Lakewood, while a GOP coalition wrote in support of both plans

The Colorado State Capitol is seen from the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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To clear the final hurdle in Colorado’s once-a-decade redistricting process, the new state House and Senate maps will need to overcome legal objections that they improperly split up cities like Lakewood and Greeley, and don’t create enough competitive districts. 

Those objections were raised by five groups ahead of a Friday noon deadline, and represent about half the number of objections lodged against the proposed U.S. House map, which organizations complained would water down the power of Latino voters.

The state House and Senate maps, approved last week by the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, are supported by the Republican state Senate and House caucuses, Douglas County Commission and the Colorado League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). 

“While the final plans are not perfect, and are not the maps Colorado Republicans would have drawn, they are a result of a faithful application of the agreed-upon constitutional criteria for redistricting,” according to a joint brief submitted by the Colorado Republican Committee, Republican State Senate Caucus and Republican State House Caucus. 

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Two of the groups objecting to the Senate map support the House map, including the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization, which said its issue with the Senate map is narrow. 

“The proposed House and Senate maps reflect that effort and, although not perfect, are a satisfactory outcome of the process Colorado voters overwhelmingly established in Amendment Z,” CLLARO said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Click here to read briefs filed with the Colorado Supreme Court regarding legislative maps. 

Approval by the Colorado Supreme Court is the last step in this year’s redistricting process, which was overseen for the first time by independent commissions created by Colorado voters through the 2018 passage of Amendments Y and Z. 

Once the court hears oral arguments for and against the maps on Oct. 25, it will have until Nov. 15 to issue an opinion. If the court rejects a map, it will be sent back to the legislative commission with instructions for changes. 

Most challenges focused on regions that were divided in the legislative maps.

Doris Morgan, a Pueblo resident represented by Republican attorney Suzanne Taheri, filed a challenge arguing the commission must keep Pueblo West whole and within one House district. 

Tom Norton, a Republican and former mayor of Greeley who previously served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, objected to the division of Greeley in both the state House and Senate maps. 

“The purpose for dividing the City of Greeley was entirely driven by racial considerations,” Norton argued in his brief. 

On the other hand, a Democratic-aligned group, Fair Lines Colorado, said the commission received testimony about the “substantial divide between East and West Greeley,” noting higher growth and family incomes on the west side of the city and large communities of immigrants and refugees on the east side. 

Instead, Fair Lines called for the rejection of the Senate map because it splits the city of Lakewood, noting the city has adequate population to make up its own Senate District. 

CLLARO said it “generally supports” both maps, but called for the rejection of the state Senate map because of the division of the city of Lakewood. 

Both Fair Lines and CLLARO support the House map. 

Jefferson County resident Lynn Gerber, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate last year, called for both the House and Senate maps to be rejected, arguing the commission failed to meet its obligation to maximize competitive districts in both maps. In a court filing, attorneys for Gerber pointed to another House map that produced four more competitive districts compared to the approved plan. 

MORE: Colorado’s new state House and Senate maps drew several Democrats into Republican districts and vice versa

The legislative commission also appears to have avoided major challenges to the maps based on voting rights issues, which the court is now debating as it reviews the proposed U.S. House map.

CLLARO, LULAC, Colorado Common Cause and All on the Line, a group affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, are among the groups calling for the congressional map to be rejected. They say the congressional commission didn’t properly interpret requirements in the state constitution, resulting in the dilution of Latino votes. 

But that didn’t happen in the legislative maps, those same groups said. 

“​​The Legislative Commission took a wildly different approach than the congressional commission,” said Mark Gaber, an attorney with the national Campaign Legal Center, which is representing LULAC. He cited an expert analysis commissioned by the panel and the consideration of other data. 

Common Cause and All on the Line did not file arguments with the court about the legislative maps. 

Norton’s argument, that dividing Greeley was entirely driven by concerns over race, echoes one made by attorneys for the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission in response to voting rights challenges. The Supreme Court will release a ruling on the U.S. House map by Nov. 1.

Attorneys for the congressional commission pushed back against arguments by CLLARO, LULAC and other groups that the state constitution goes further than federal law in protecting minority voters. That interpretation, they told the Supreme Court, would run afoul of the federal equal protection clause by making race the predominant consideration, ahead of other redistricting factors like equal population or communities of interest. 

In his filing to the court, Fair Lines attorney Mark Grueskin highlighted the contrast in approaches to voting rights issues between the two commissions. 

“This Commission got it right,” Grueskin wrote of the legislative commission. “And its districts should not be disturbed on grounds that it departed from the Congressional Commission’s flawed reasoning.”


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