Carson District Judge Signs Off On New Political Boundaries, Making Only Minor Changes To Special Master Maps

CARSON CITY – Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell approved a set of maps outlining Nevada’s new political boundaries today, making only modest changes to the lines drawn by a panel of three court-appointed special masters.

Russell, who ended up in charge of the redistricting process after legislative Democrats and Republicans could not come to an agreement in the 2011 session, signed off on the four congressional districts as proposed and made minor changes to several state Senate seats to correct what he said was an irregularly shaped state Senate 8 seat now held by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

The changes to Senate 8 also resulted in modest changes in the percentage of Democrats and Republicans in Senate District 9 held by Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, Senate District 6 held by Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, and a new Senate 18 district created in Clark County with the population shift from northern and rural Nevada to the south.

Democrat attorney Marc Elias, left, and Republican attorney Mark Hutchison look over the new maps in Carson City District Court today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau

Russell also changed the proposed boundaries of Assembly Districts 34 and 37 in Clark County to return Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, to his District 34. Horne had moved and was unintentionally drawn out of his district.

Russell made the changes after consulting this week with the special masters in advance of today’s hearing.

Attorneys for Democrats and Republicans reserved judgment on whether they will appeal the new political boundaries, required as a result of the 2010 Census, after reviewing the changes. The new political boundaries could potentially be challenged both to the Nevada Supreme Court and the federal courts.

Republican Party attorney Mark Hutchison had argued for changes to Senate seats 6, 8 and 9 to make them more competitive for Republicans, but Russell made only minor changes to the districts.

Democrat Party Attorney Marc Elias had asked for no changes to the maps drawn by Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets and former legislative Research Director Bob Erickson.

Elias said he could propose a laundry list of changes to the maps to improve Democrat political changes in the 2012 election, but that absent any serious errors that needed fixing, the political demands of the two parties should not be accommodated by Russell.

Russell said he tried to address the concerns of rural Nevada, which saw a Senate district drawn all the way into Clark County to reflect the population shift, but could find no way to do so. He noted that both the redistricting plans proposed by Republicans and Democrats moved the district into Clark County as well. The map as drawn by the special masters encompasses less of Clark County than the plans proposed by the parties, Russell said.

“We tried to accommodate these people . . . but there’s no way to work it out,” he said.

The rural district could have been kept whole only if the Legislature had voted to expand its size from the current 21 Senate and 42 Assembly seats, but it did not do so. The state constitution allows the Legislature to be expanded to as many as 75 seats in total.

The congressional maps, which include a new fourth seat due to Nevada’s population growth over the past decade compared to other states, has a central urban Las Vegas District 1 that is 42.8 percent Hispanic.

“I think overall we can live with the congressional maps, particularly based on the court’s decision to accept the special masters’ finding that there was no white block voting that precluded minorities from being elected or choosing candidates of their choice,” Hutchison said.

Elias said he does not believe the new congressional districts violate the federal Voting Rights Act and so no federal court challenge looks likely.

“It doesn’t seem to me that there is any basis at this point for a federal court action,” he said. “We’ve said, literally from the first day here, that the Voting Rights Act does not compel the creation of a majority-minority congressional district.”

Russell said he also considered the idea of returning the redistricting process to the Legislature in a special session, but rejected the idea. A two-week special session would have cost about $550,000, he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval is the only one with the authority to call a special session of the Legislature, and he had previously rejected the idea, saying he had confidence in the court process to resolve the impasse.

Russell also found that the districts as drawn do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Nevada Supreme Court still has a hearing scheduled for next month on the issue of whether the Legislature has the responsibility to draw the state’s new political boundaries, not the courts.

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Audio clips:

GOP attorney Mark Hutchison says Republicans can lives with the new congressional districts:

102711Hutchison :15 of their choice.”

Democrat attorney Marc Elias says he does not believe there are federal issues with the new districts:

102711Elias :16 majority-minority congressional district.”