The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday unanimously approved new state Senate and House maps, the final hurdle the redistricting plans needed to clear before being adopted ahead of the 2022 election.
The Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission followed the Colorado Constitution’s requirements for redistricting and didn’t abuse its authority in deciding how to apply them, Justice Richard L. Gabriel wrote in the ruling.
“Under our constitution, our review is a limited one,” Gabriel said. “It is not our task to determine whether other plans could have been adopted.”
Approval by the state Supreme Court is the last step in this year’s once-a-decade congressional and legislative redistricting process, which was overseen for the first time by independent commissions created through the 2018 passage of Amendments Y and Z. The court separately approved the new U.S. House map Nov. 1.
The court’s approval of the state Senate and House maps allows the Colorado Secretary of State’s office and county clerks to redraw precinct lines to fit the new maps. It also provides clarity for incumbent lawmakers and prospective candidates who have been waiting for approval to make decisions about the 2022 election.
The maps, which were approved by the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission last month, appear to favor Democrats’ maintaining their majority in the General Assembly.
Democrats now hold a 20-15 majority in the state Senate. They hold a 41-24 advantage in the House. Nine seats in the Senate, where Republicans have their greatest chance of a majority, would be considered competitive.
The legislative maps, which take effect for the 2022 general election, received fewer legal objections than the U.S. House map approved by the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission. A few parties made arguments that the legislative maps improperly split up cities like Lakewood and Greeley, and didn’t create enough competitive districts.
In its opinion Monday as well as in an earlier ruling on the congressional map, the Supreme Court acknowledged that, under Amendments Y and Z, its review of the maps was limited to whether the commission applied the correct legal standards and had reasonable evidence to support its decisions.
For example, a Democratic group, Fair Lines Colorado, and Latino advocacy group, the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization, argued the legislative commission approved a state Senate map splitting the City of Lakewood but lacked documented evidence to back that decision.
Evidence supporting the splitting of Lakewood into two Senate districts is “thin,” according to the ruling. Although the panel “could have made a better and more explicit record to support its decision,” doing so wasn’t required of the commission, the court found.
While the legislative commission could have made different choices, the panel adopted maps that “fell within the range of reasonable options,” according to the ruling.
Court approval of the legislative maps marks the end of a chaotic first year under Amendments Y and Z. The 2020 census data used to draw final maps was nearly five months late this year, compressing the time that the redistricting commission had to hold public hearings and draw maps.
Significant population growth resulted in the creation of a new 8th Congressional District, which will be the most politically competitive. The final U.S. House map creates three safe seats for Democrats, three safe seats for Republicans and two seats that could go either way. Republicans have a larger advantage in the new 3rd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Garfield County is running for reelection.
Colorado is one of 13 states that have finalized their redrawn congressional maps, according to FiveThirtyEight. Although redistricting is unlikely to alter the balance of power in Colorado, Republicans have so far gained at least five seats in the U.S. House, give them a strong edge on recapturing the chamber, according to the New York Times. They need to flip five seats to gain a majority.