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Redistricting Update by Ruth Kistler

Does current Oregon law prohibit partisan gerrymandering? ORS 188.010 appears to. It says that (congressional and legislative) districts “as nearly as practicable, shall be contiguous, be of equal population, utilize existing geographic or political boundaries, not divide communities of common interest, and be connected by transportation links.” Furthermore, “no district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party, incumbent legislator or other person.”

The Oregon legislature completed redistricting by the Sept 27 deadline, enacting SB 881-A (Congressional districts) and SB 882 (Legislative districts) maps; Governor Kate Brown signed the legislation. Not unexpectedly, both maps have been challenged in court.

In response to the challenge of the legislative redistricting, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argued that lawmakers passed a law to redraw legislative districts and that law overrides any previously passed law that conflicts with it. “When two statutes conflict irreconcilably, the more recently enacted statute implicitly supersedes the earlier one.” “Here, that means that (the legislative redistricting map) implicitly superseded any conflicting provision in redistricting criteria in Oregon law.” She argued that a statute, such as the redistricting map, cannot be invalidated on the ground that it violates another earlier statute, only if it violates a constitutional provision. The only redistricting criteria in Oregon’s constitution is that districts must be of equal population. Rosenblum also wrote that, nonetheless, the lawmakers did follow existing law despite having no obligation to do so.

I think this is yet another powerful argument for removing redistricting from the legislative process. If redistricting maps were produced by an independent commission, they would have to follow existing law. The League is working with partners to get measure IP 34 onto the November 2022 ballot. It is a constitutional change to create an independent citizen’s redistricting commission. We expect to be able to start gathering signatures to qualify this initiative for the ballot in January or February 2022. See the just-this-minute press release on the progress of IP 34, “Oregon redistricting reform proposal sprints ahead” included in this newsletter.

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