- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court dealt a blow to Republicans yesterday by rejecting the General Assembly’s newly updated congressional redistricting map, ruling that the boundaries can be drawn only once per decade.

In a decision that could hobble Republican efforts to bolster its majority in the House, the court ruled 5-2 that legislators violated the state constitution when they scrapped the 2001 redistricting plan and replaced it in May with one more favorable to Republicans.

“There is no language empowering the General Assembly to redistrict more frequently or at any other time,” the court said in the 63-page opinion.

“[T]he state constitution limits redistricting to once per census, and nothing in state or federal law negates this limitation.”

The ruling deals only with Colorado law and cannot set a precedent for other states, but it could discourage legislators elsewhere from pursuing the same tactic. A similar battle is now being waged in Texas, where the Republican-led Legislature approved a more favorable map in October and faces a court challenge from Democrats next week.

Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, the Democrat who filed the lawsuit, called the decision “a victory for the people of Colorado.”

“It creates stability with respect to redistricting in Colorado,” said Mr. Salazar. “The framers of our constitution intended to avoid having the legislature redistrict multiple times because it’s so distracting.”

But Colorado Republicans denounced the ruling as an infringement on the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches. Several Republicans said it was likely they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling states that a new redistricting plan can be implemented only in the period after the census and before the next election. “Having failed to redistrict when it should have, the General Assembly has lost its chance to redistrict until after the 2010 federal census,” the opinion said.

The Colorado Constitution says the General Assembly shall redistrict congressional seats “[w]hen a new apportionment shall be made by Congress,” but the 2001 map was drawn by a judge after the legislature failed to agree upon a plan. At the time, Democrats controlled the state Senate by one vote, and refused to allow any redistricting plan to come to the floor.

Republicans argued that the judge’s plan was temporary because it had not been approved by the legislature. In May, Republican legislators, with majorities now in both houses, pushed through a new map in the final 72 hours of the session, which was signed by Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican.

The court, however, ruled that the judge’s map was every bit as valid as one approved by state legislators. “The term ‘General Assembly’ encompasses the entire legislative process, as well as voter initiatives and redistricting by court order,” the court said.

State Republican Party Chairman Ted Halaby called the court’s argument “totally absurd,” saying that it hands over legislative power to the judiciary.

Republicans also noted that the court’s majority consisted of five justices appointed by Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat. The two dissenting votes came from the court’s only Owens appointee, Justice Nathan Coats, and Justice Rebecca Love Khourlis, a Romer appointee whose father, John Love, is a former Republican governor.

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