Indiana News

Court Strikes Down GOP-Drawn Council Maps

Redistricting fight headed for Indiana Supreme Court

7/17/2013

A divided panel of Marion County judges has struck down a Republican-drawn City-County Council district map.

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A lame-duck council passed the new map in December 2011, 13 days before a newly-elected Democratic majority took office. A 3-2 majority of judges says that map was legal, but says the law required a map to be passed in 2012. Republicans -- and two dissenting judges -- argue that requirement was met when GOP Mayor Greg Ballard signed the ordinance on New Year's Day, hours before the new council was sworn in. But Superior Judge Jim Osborn says it's the date the council passed it that matters.

Democrats passed their own map in 2012, but Ballard vetoed it and the council didn't try to override him. The court says because the mayor and council failed to agree on a map during 2012, it'll fall to the five judges to impose one.

Council president Maggie Lewis (D) says the GOP map was gerrymandered for political advantage. She predicts the Indiana Supreme Court will uphold the lower-court ruling, and says she's satisfied the resulting maps will be appropriately nonpartisan.

Council Minority Leader Michael McQuillen says the ruling is a formality -- he says it's been clear all along that whichever side lost would appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, where he says he hopes the justices will agree the mayor's signature met the legal requirements to enact new maps in 2012.

It'll be the second straight time the Supreme Court has had to referee a City-County Council redistricting dispute. The current lines were drawn by the court months before the 2003 election, when a Republican council and Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson couldn't agree.

The ruling by the five-judge Superior Court panel fell along party lines, with Osborn and fellow Democrats Heather Welch and Thomas Carroll in the majority, and Republican judges Cynthia Ayers and Robert Altice dissenting. Osborn took pains to note that when the courts are "reeled in" to redistricting disputes, their responsibility is to adopt a nonpartisan map, not to choose the map of one party or the other.

Republicans hold a 14-11 majority of the district seats. Democrats' overall majority is due to their control of the four at-large seats, which will be abolished in 2015 under a law passed this year by the Republican legislature. McQuillen calculates the rejected GOP map would have given each party 10 safe seats, with five tossups.

The law which eliminated the at-large seats also helped cement the ruling overturning the maps. The same law adjusts the language of the redistricting statute to say the redraw must take place "before the end" of the second year following a federal census, rather than "during" that year. Osborn's ruling reasons legislators wouldn't have changed it unless there was something to change, and that the New Year's signing of the ordinance therefore didn't meet the old requirement.

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