Ada County revives challenge to redistricting plan
by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
The state of Idaho has waived its right to respond to a petition from Ada County in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the county asks the high court to review the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision upholding the legislative map adopted by the state’s redistricting commission.
Ada County argues that the new legislative map violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating Ada and Canyon counties differently than the rest of Idaho’s counties. The petition also argues the Idaho Supreme Court should have conducted an equal protection analysis itself rather than deferring to the commission’s judgment.
The Idaho Capital Sun first reported on Ada County’s challenge.
This year’s Durst decision from the Idaho Supreme Court said that the redistricting commission is not bound to split as few counties as mathematically possible, as previous rulings had required.
Instead, the state court ruled, the commission has a modicum of flexibility in dividing counties, as long as those divisions are specifically created in pursuit of ‘one person, one vote’ equal protection.
Ada County argues that the legislative map adopted by the commission, dubbed L03, does not satisfy equal protection requirements because it treats Ada County and Canyon County differently than the other 42 counties in the state.
Read more: ‘One person, one vote, forty-four counties’
In the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court outlined the ‘one person, one vote‘ principle under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court found that “legislators represent people, not areas,” and that “weighting votes differently according to where citizens happen to reside is discriminatory.”
The Legislative Map
Ada County takes issue with the fact that 75,859 of its residents are grouped into legislative districts with neighboring counties, as are 70,678 residents of Canyon County. The ideal legislative district size this cycle was 52,546 people.
“Ada County is entitled to represent itself and its citizens to ensure that their representation in the Idaho Legislature reflects the urban needs of those who live in the fastest growing area of the state with a huge percentage of the population,” the petition states.
In rough terms, Ada argues that another 52k of its residents and 52k of Canyon’s residents were entitled to a legislative district wholly within their respective county’ borders, rather than distributed into partial districts paired with surrounding rural counties.
“This distribution of an ideal district [population] to surrounding counties only occurred in the urban counties,” the petition states. “Ada County is not like its rural neighbors.”
Ada County’s original challenge was combined with several others before the Idaho Supreme Court in Durst v. Idaho Commission for Reapportionment. In that ruling, the court overturned existing precedent on how the commission is allowed to divide counties into legislative districts.
In rural Idaho, districts typically span multiple counties. On the other hand, more populous urban areas are represented by several smaller districts. It is rare for an ideal legislative district population to encompass a single whole county. (Looking at you, District 34 in Madison County.)
The Idaho Constitution mandates “a county may be divided in creating districts only to the extent it is reasonably determined by statute that counties must be divided to… comply with the constitution of the United States.” (In this case, ‘one person, one vote’ equal protection.)
In Durst, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the commission is only allowed to split counties in pursuit of equal protection. The court also ruled that in order to throw out an approved map, petitioners must demonstrate the redistricting commission had been unreasonable in determining how many counties to split between districts.
In its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ada County essentially says it should have had a chance to present its standalone county-specific equal protection arguments, but the Idaho Supreme Court turned them down because they didn’t show the commission had been unreasonable.
“It was unprecedented that the Idaho Supreme Court would defer to the Commission’s equal protection determinations rather than conducting its own equal protection analysis,” Ada County’s petition says.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office waived its right to respond to the petition on behalf of the state on Thursday, August 11. The office declined to comment based on the pending nature of the litigation.
In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, Ada County wants the high court to assert nationwide that “only the judicial branch of government is authorized to make constitutional law determinations, and the judiciary’s role in making those constitutional law decisions cannot be delegated” to a non-judicial entity like a state redistricting commission.
Across the country, 16 states use political or independent commissions for redistricting rather than the state legislature.
If the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sides with Ada County, it is not immediately clear what effect the case would have on Idaho’s current legislative districts, which candidates used to file for the 2022 primary and general elections.
Updated Aug. 16 with response from Attorney General’s Office.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.