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Trial over whether Dems gerrymandered NM’s congressional map to begin

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Trial over whether Dems gerrymandered NM’s congressional map to begin

Sep 27, 2023 | 6:10 am ET
By Nash Jones, KUNM News
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Trial over whether Dems gerrymandered NM’s congressional map to begin
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The New Mexico Supreme Court questions Republican Party attorney Daniel Gallegos during a January 9, 2023, hearing on the GOP's lawsuit alleging Democrats politically gerrymandered the state's 2021 congressional map. On Wednesday, July 5, the court sided with the GOP and gave the go-ahead for its case to be heard in district court. Nonpartisan advocates for fair redistricting say while it may be a "temporary win" for the Republicans, the decision is actually a victory for all New Mexico voters, regardless of party. (Screenshot courtesy NM Supreme Court livestream)

A trial over the version of New Mexico’s congressional map redrawn in 2021 is set to begin Wednesday in state district court.

The Republican Party and other plaintiffs argue Democratic lawmakers diluted GOP votes when they split the conservative southeastern corner of the state into three districts. Democrats argue redistricting is an inherently political process, but lawmakers acted appropriately in drawing a set of competitive districts.

The map’s first go around last year saw Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez eke out a win over incumbent Yvette Herrell in the 2nd Congressional District, which usually sends a Republican to Congress. The trial comes ahead of a likely rematch between the two in the 2024 election.

The district previously encompassed the entirety of southern New Mexico, including the oil-rich Permian Basin and vast agricultural land. It was redrawn to exclude a portion of the eastern border with Texas and add part of Albuquerque, including the heavily Hispanic and Democratic South Valley.

In January, the Supreme Court sided with the Republicans in allowing the case to be heard in state district court.

It also determined that some political gerrymandering is acceptable under the state and U.S. constitutions. Attorney for the plaintiffs Daniel Gallegos argued New Mexico’s Democratic-controlled Legislature went beyond that — violating the state’s Equal Protection Clause.

“Our claim is excessive gerrymandering,” he told the justices. “That this constitutes that egregious nature of gerrymandering.”

Attorney for Democratic leadership Sara Sanchez argued the plaintiffs are pushing back on a district that is simply harder for Republicans to win than it used to be.

“There’s no constitutional right to the same political performance that your district was before,” she said.

District Judge Fred Van Soelen will hear the case. He ruled last year that the plaintiffs had a strong argument for the map diluting Republican votes, but allowed it to be used for the impending midterm elections.  

The three-day trial is set to begin in the Fifth Judicial District Court Wednesday morning. The state Supreme Court has ordered Van Soelen to rule on the case no later than Oct. 6.