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A New Mexico judge rules against Republicans in a redistricting case

Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-N.M., speaks during a Capitol Hill news conference on June 15. On Friday, a New Mexico state judge ruled against a Republican Party challenge of congressional boundaries approved by Democrats that divvied up a politically conservative region.
Mariam Zuhaib
/
AP
Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-N.M., speaks during a Capitol Hill news conference on June 15. On Friday, a New Mexico state judge ruled against a Republican Party challenge of congressional boundaries approved by Democrats that divvied up a politically conservative region.

Updated October 6, 2023 at 5:15 PM ET

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A New Mexico judge on Friday upheld the state's congressional map as constitutional following a trial over whether the Democratic-controlled Legislature illegally drew the boundaries in 2021.

Judge Fred Van Soelen found there was clear evidence that Democratic lawmakers intentionally tried to dilute the votes of the state Republican Party and other plaintiffs when they moved conservative voters out of the 2nd Congressional District and moved Democratic-aligned voters in.

However, he ruled that the success of those efforts, while "substantial," did not "rise to the level of an egregious gerrymander."

New Mexico's 2nd District previously encompassed the entire southern part of the state, including a portion of the oil-rich Permian Basin and vast agricultural land. It was redrawn to exclude part of the state's eastern border with Texas — a conservative-leaning area — and add a heavily Hispanic and Democratic part of Albuquerque, the state's largest city.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that some partisan gerrymandering is acceptable. It's when it's "egregious" that it violates the state Constitution.

"Entrenchment is the touchstone of an egregious partisan gerrymander," Van Soelen wrote in his decision. That is, Democrats would have to have such a strong hold on the district that they would always win. If the map itself, rather than voters, determined the district's election results, it would violate the Republican plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection.

The parties in the case presented conflicting evidence at trial as to whether the district remains competitive. So, Van Soelen based his ruling on the results of the 2022 election — the only time the map has been used.

That race saw Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez narrowly beat Republican Yvette Herrell, the previous incumbent, by a mere 1,350 votes — or just 0.7%.

"Given the variables that go into predicting future election outcomes, coupled with the competitive outcome of the only actual election held so far under the SB1 map, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs have not provided sufficient evidence that the Defendants were successful in their attempt to entrench their party in Congressional District 2," Van Soelen wrote in his ruling.

The Republican Party of New Mexico announced Friday that it would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court "on behalf of all disenfranchised voters in the state of New Mexico."

Nationally, the ruling could be yet another redistricting case that affects the balance of power in the U.S. House. And Vasquez and Herrell could square off in a rematch in the 2024 election.

Copyright 2023 KUNM

Nash Jones
Nash Jones grew up in Albuquerque and recently returned home after 11 years away living in Portland, OR, and Oakland, CA. Nash’spassion for the spoken word is centered around storytelling, so they work to focus their episodes of Spoken Word Hour on that specific practice. Nash appreciates Story’s ability to build empathy and understanding across difference and hopes their episodes of Spoken Word Hour can help to do just that. Nash is a storyteller themself and has performed on stages across the Bay Area and now, Albuquerque. They sit on the Board of Directors of Storytellers of New Mexico, a statewide nonprofit, and are the producer and host of Duke City Story Slam, a monthly live storytelling event in Downtown Albuquerque.