Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – With control of the U.S. House at stake in November, the New Mexico Republican Party filed a lawsuit in state court Friday over a new congressional map signed into law last month by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The lawsuit, also filed by seven other plaintiffs, argues the Democratic-backed map redrawing the boundaries of New Mexico’s three congressional districts for the next decade intentionally chops up Republican voting strongholds.
Specifically, the suit claims the boundaries violate redistricting principles established by the Legislature and previous court rulings to accomplish a “political gerrymander” that dilutes the votes of southeast New Mexico residents to obtain a partisan advantage.
It was filed in the state’s 5th District Court in Lea County by a legal team that has also been involved with redistricting litigation in Colorado.
“The Democrats’ cynical attempt to consolidate their power by abusing the redistricting process in New Mexico is illegal and wrong,” state GOP Chairman Steve Pearce, a former congressman, said in a statement Friday.
The new congressional map, which is set to take effect in March, was passed by lawmakers on largely party-line votes during a special session last month at the Roundhouse, with majority Democrats voting in favor.
The map splits Albuquerque into two districts and moves some of southeast New Mexico, which traditionally skews conservative, into congressional districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernandez, both Democrats.
As a result, the 2nd Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, the lone Republican member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, would become more Democratic.
Herrell, who is seeking reelection this year, has also described the map as an example of gerrymandering and said it shows Democrats’ desperation to “try to save Nancy Pelosi’s majority,” a reference to the current U.S. House speaker.
However, Democratic backers of the redrawn map have described it as a legally sound approach to setting congressional district boundaries that ensures each of the state’s three districts includes both rural and urban areas.
Several immigrant advocacy groups have also expressed support for the map, saying it will provide fairer representation for Latino and immigrant communities, especially those who work in oil fields and other jobs in southeast New Mexico.
After signing the map into law, Lujan Grisham said it represents “a reasonable baseline for competitive federal elections, in which no one party or candidate may claim any undue advantage.”
The GOP-backed lawsuit disputes that claim.
It asks a judge to strike down the new boundaries and replace them with a map proposed by the Citizen Redistricting Committee, a group created last year to come up with recommendations for lawmakers.
“Now, New Mexico’s congressional map is a hopelessly partisan map that casts aside traditional redistricting principles to ensure a Democratic sweep through the dilution of votes,” the 28-page lawsuit says.
In addition to the state Republican Party, the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include state Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice; former state House candidate Dinah Vargas of Albuquerque; and ex-Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat who was ousted from the Senate in 2012 after serving for 34 years.
The listed defendants in the case include Lujan Grisham, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and top-ranking Democratic lawmakers in the state House and Senate.
Meanwhile, last year’s special session marked the first time in 30 years that Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office during a redistricting year.
Lawmakers are authorized under the state Constitution to redraw political boundary lines once every decade based on population changes.
New Mexico had a population of slightly more than 2.1 million people, according 2020 census data. Thus, the target population for each of the state’s three congressional districts is roughly 705,000 residents.