Supreme Court Won’t Intervene in Washington State Legislative Map Dispute

Supreme Court Won’t Intervene in Washington State Legislative Map Dispute
Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice John Robert (R) and Justices Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett depart after the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2023. (Julia Nikhinson/Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an emergency request to put on hold a court decision that changed the boundaries of several legislative districts in Washington state following a voting rights lawsuit.

The redrawn boundaries are expected to benefit Democrats in the already Democrat-dominated state.

The decision (pdf) on the emergency application in Trevino v. Palmer came late in the day on April 2 in a one-sentence unsigned order. No justices dissented. The court did not explain its decision. The application for stay was first presented to Justice Elena Kagan who then referred it to the full court.

Applicant Jose Trevino is a registered voter. Respondent Susan Soto Palmer is also a registered voter.

The political territory in dispute is Legislative District 15 (LD15) in the central part of Washington. The district is currently represented by state Sen. Nikki Torres, state Rep. Bruce Chandler, and state Rep. Bryan Sandlin, all Republicans. A state redistricting commission redrew the electoral map, but the lower courts struck it down for violating the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature. The Senate has 29 Democrats and 20 Republicans; the House, 58 Democrats and 40 Republicans.

Weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1998, approved a new electoral map after finding that the previous map made it difficult for Latino voters in the Yakima Valley and Pasco areas to elect their preferred candidates.

A bloc of Latino voters had sued to contest the map drawn by the state’s redistricting commission in 2021, saying it watered down the voting power of local Latinos. The district court ruling was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which refused a request for a stay on March 22.

Before that, in August 2023 Judge Lasnik struck down the state legislative map for violating Section 2 of the VRA.

Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a large language minority group. Last year, Alabama had asked the Supreme Court to weaken Section 2. The court declined to do so, holding 5–4 in Allen v. Milligan that the state’s electoral map for congressional elections was racially discriminatory and violated the VRA.

In his judgment, Judge Lasnik wrote that the question in this case “is whether the state has engaged in line-drawing which, in combination with the social and historical conditions in the Yakima Valley region, impairs the ability of Latino voters in that area to elect their candidate of choice on an equal basis with other voters.”

“The answer is yes,” he concluded.

The court found “that the boundaries of LD 15, in combination with the social, economic, and historical conditions in the Yakima Valley region, results in an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by white and Latino voters in the area.”

On March 25, Mr. Trevino and Alex Ybarra, a Republican who represents the 13th district in the Washington House of Representatives, asked the Supreme Court on an emergency basis to stay the new map because it “changes the partisan composition of ten districts outside the Yakima Valley region in the Democrats’ favor.”

The changes “include redrawing District 12, far away in North Central Washington, from a district carried by former President [Donald] Trump into one carried by President [Joe] Biden, and changing District 17 in the Portland suburbs of Southwest Washington from a district where Republican candidates won by 0.9% on average to one where Democrats would have a 2.0% advantage on average.”

The document described Judge Lasnik’s changes to the map as so “wanton and unnecessary” that they amounted to “an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.”

The Supreme Court was urged to act because “the district court’s judgment and injunction invalidate[d] enacted law of Washington State and gratuitously redraw [sic] the legislative map for roughly one-fourth of the State, [so therefore] there is a reasonable probability of obtaining review on that ground alone.”

After the Supreme Court ruled on April 2, Sonni Waknin, voting rights counsel at the UCLA Voting Rights Project, which represented the respondent, Ms. Palmer, told The Seattle Times that “the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that Washington State will use a lawful map for the next general election.”

“This decision guarantees that all voters can participate, assured their votes count on a map adhering to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” she said.

State Senate Republican Leader John Braun said the new map was “racially discriminatory.”

“All this partisan gerrymandered map does is help Democrats to a greater share of political power,” he told the newspaper.

The case previously came before the Supreme Court.

In February, the nation’s highest court denied a petition for certiorari, or review, in Trevino v. Palmer. A co-respondent in the case was State Rep. Ybarra.

At the same time, the Supreme Court vacated a judgment in Garcia v. Hobbs, sending the case back to federal district court.

In Garcia v. Hobbs, the court issued an unsigned order that summarily voided the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington “with instructions to enter a fresh judgment from which an appeal may be taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”

Lawyers call this process GVR, which stands for grant, vacate, and remand.

Benancio Garcia III was the lead appellant. Mr. Garcia was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the fourth congressional district of Washington in 2022. The lead respondent was Steve Hobbs, a Democrat who is Washington’s secretary of state.

From The Epoch Times

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.