Hand inserting a piece of paper into a ballot box in front of the Colorado flag.

Colorado Supreme Court rules General Assembly redistricting bill would be 'unconstitutional'

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Robert Davis | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) — The Colorado Supreme Court has affirmed that the state’s independent redistricting committees can continue their work to redraw political districts while the U.S. Census Bureau finalizes the 2020 count.

The interrogatory lawsuit was filed by the General Assembly in response to Senate Bill 21-247, a bipartisan bill that seeks to redefine what data the redistricting commissions can use to draw new political districts ahead of the 2022 general election. Instead of using “necessary census data” as defined by state statutes, the legislation sought to allow the commissions to continue their work based on the total population counts that the Census Bureau released in April.

The court found that SB 21-247 would be unconstitutional if enacted because “the independent commissions were established by voters specifically to remove authority from the General Assembly over the redistricting process,” the opinion reads.

Justice Monica Marquez delivered the opinion of the court, with Justices William Hood III and Richard Gabriel dissenting.

“The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed that the independent commissions are just that -- independent,” Carlos Perez, chair of the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, said in a statement. “The overwhelming support for Amendments Y and Z in 2018 unequivocally demonstrated that the voters are highly skeptical that a partisan process will yield fair maps.”

Prior to the passage of Amendments Y and Z, Colorado’s political districts were drawn by state lawmakers, a process that oftentimes became contentious.

One such episode played out during the 2011 redistricting process as both major political parties offered district maps that heavily favored their own side. Both parties eventually filed lawsuits challenging the redistricting process. The issue was further compounded by data delays as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a similar issue with data delays from the Census Bureau, which caused the General Assembly to file the interrogatory to clarify its role in the process.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold described the ruling as “encouraging” because it will allow the commission to complete its work on time.

Colorado’s House GOP caucus also issued a statement in support of the ruling.

“Coloradans deserve a truly independent redistricting process that is free from political influence or partisan gerrymandering. Our citizens are best served by many competitive districts where candidates must compete based on the values of their policies and not the partisan letter behind their name on the ballot,” the statement said.