The New Mexico Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday as part of a legal challenge to a congressional map that divides the state’s politically conservative region.
This is one of several court battles in states from Kentucky to Utah involving U.S. House of Representatives districts passed by state legislatures and alleged constitutional violations.
The Republican Party and several other plaintiffs have accused New Mexico’s Democratic lawmakers of dividing the southeastern tip of the state – an oil-producing region and Republican stronghold – into three districts “for raw political gain.”
The case has implications for the Second Congressional District, where Democrat Gabe Vasquez ousted incumbent U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Herrell in November. The predominantly Hispanic neighborhood now stretches from the US-Mexico border through the desert oil fields and parts of Albuquerque.
Clovis District Judge Fred Van Soelen in April paved the way for Republicans to challenge the new map of Congress while banning immediate changes that could disrupt the 2022 midterm elections.
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and leading Democratic lawmakers asked the Supreme Court to intervene and uphold their redistricting plan.
They say the new boundaries of the state’s three congressional districts have been properly reviewed through a political process to provide more competitive districts that reflect population changes while respecting Native American communities.
But lawmakers also say political considerations are inherent in the process of drawing congressional districts, and have warned the court against delving into the “political thicket.”
In a related litigation at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., judges consider a challenge that would leave state legislatures with virtually no control in setting rules for congressional and presidential elections. The arguments were presented in December.
The North Carolina Republicans who brought the case to the Supreme Court argue that a provision of the US Constitution, known as the Electoral Clause, gives state lawmakers virtually complete control over “when, where and how” congressional elections, including redistricting.
They say this means cutting off state courts from the process. State courts have become the only legal forum to challenge partisan congressional maps since the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that these lawsuits could not be brought in federal court.
The stakes are high as Republicans won just a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in the November 2022 election, giving them enough power to challenge President Joe Biden’s agenda. Any ruling that causes some districts to be redrawn is likely to come into effect in the 2024 election.
In New Mexico, Democrats won all three congressional contests in November. They control every elected office throughout the state, administer majorities in the State House and Senate, and form a five-member Supreme Court.
“According to the previous congressional map, the interest community in Southeast New Mexico had a real opportunity to elect a Republican member of Congress,” the Republican Party said in a written court statement.