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NH Supreme Court Throws Out Redistricting Lawsuits

UPDATE 3: Democratic leaders in the NH House respond to ruling; state Rep. Seth Cohn, R-Canterbury, chimes in.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court on June 19, threw out a myriad of lawsuits against the approved earlier this year, stating that the plaintiffs in the challenges had not proven that the plan was unconstitutional.

The court's decisions can be downloaded here on PDF.

, a collection of representatives from eight different law firms who were working on behalf of elected officials, public interest groups, and a collection of voters from different parts of New Hampshire, stated that the redistricting didn’t allow for proper representation. In many districts, they claimed, there were not communities of interest linked together.

In one instance, the city of Concord, which has traditionally had all of its representation spreadout throughout the city, is sharing Ward 5 with Hopkinton in a multi-candidate field, meaning that, potentially, if all three reps were elected from Hopkinton, Ward 5 residents may not have a legislator who lives in their ward. In another claim, the city of Manchester sued because one of its seats was split with Litchfield.

However, in a 33-page decision, including an extensive breakdown of districts across the state, the court rejected the claims, saying that while the plan may not be the best or wisest, it was not unconstitutional.

In a statement, House Speaker , R-Mount Vernon, said despite the lawsuit, the “good news” is that the plan doubles the number of districts around the state resulting in greater representation.

“We have clearly achieved the goal of the 2006 amendment and the citizens of New Hampshire will benefit from these actions,” he said. “Today, the court realized the challenge that the House faced in developing a blueprint that synthesized both the federal ‘one-person, one-vote’ principle as well as the 2006 state constitutional amendment. The strong opinion of the justices validates the extraordinary hard work of the House Redistricting Committee, House staff and our attorneys, all of whom did a tremendous job in coming up with a proposal that deftly navigated the obstacle course of the many constitutional provisions involved with this effort while trying to be as accommodating of local sensibilities as possible.”

A representative of Granite State Progress, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuits, said she was disappointed in the result of the suits, stating that there were alternative plans that could have been used for redistricting.

“We are disappointed in the result but pursuing this case was the right thing to do on behalf of the 375,284 people and 62 communities who were harmed by the House plan,” Zandra Rice Hawkins, director of Granite State Progress said. “The House Leadership did everything they could to prevent a fair and open redistricting process. The end result ignored the overwhelmingly popular 2006 constitutional amendment and left many communities without adequate representation.”
 
“We look forward to the next legislative session, where we hope to find interest to establish a non-partisan redistricting commission that can better represent the interests of New Hampshire voters,” Rice Hawkins said.

UPDATE: More responses.

State Rep. , D-Portsmouth, the Democratic House Leader and, state Rep. , D-Concord, the Deputy Democratic Leader and a petitioner in the case, issued the following statements on the Supreme Court’s Decision regarding the New Hampshire House Redistricting Plan:

Norelli: “We are certainly disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to overturn the Republican redistricting plan. While the Court stated that the plan does not violate the NH State Constitution, we believe this flawed plan fails to honor the intent of the voters of New Hampshire who clearly expressed their opinion that every town and ward should have its own representative. For example, the Town of Pelham should have their own four State Representatives.  Instead, this plan forces Pelham into a district with the Town of Hudson, which over the last decade has resulted in Pelham being significantly underrepresented in the NH Legislature.”
 
Wallner: “The voters were clear when they overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the New Hampshire Constitution in 2006: every town and ward that has the population to support one or more representatives must have those representatives. The fact remains that there are 62 towns and city wards that deserve their own representative that will not have that representation under the plan. Unfortunately the constitution requires the Supreme Court to give great deference to the legislature's redistricting plan even when that plan disregards the will of the voters.

State Rep. , R-Canterbury, a representative who was involved in trying to find a compromise to the conflicts around the maps and districts, offered the following comment about the NH Supreme Court ruling:

"Given the poorly coordinated and rushed briefs, I found the decision missed things I knew to be significant. Too many lawyers, too many viewpoints, poor arguments mixed with good ones, leading to the mess the courts tried to sort out. The courts punted, the people lose. "Constitutional" doesnt make it the best plan, the right plan, or even a fair and just plan. The people deserved better, and they weren't served. This too shall pass, in a short 10 years. In the meantime, a fix to the flawed article causing this mess is needed, a redistricting method more public and transparent, and plenty of other changes to our election processes, including ballot access reform, vote count protection, and improved funding disclosures. This decision is tiny in that light, merely one broken piece in a shattered puzzle laying on the floor of our once great representative democracy. But hey, some folks merely want to play one upsmanship. Ah, politics."

judith June 19, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Is the NH Supreme Court full of Tea Partyers? I don't get it.
David Pittelli June 19, 2012 at 04:49 PM
A shocking and disgraceful attack on the Constitution and on the Rights of the good citizens of Concord who, while living right next to that benighted town known as Hopkinton, must not to be mixed up with the lumpen trash of that foul carbuncle upon the state. /s
David Pittelli June 19, 2012 at 05:48 PM
judith, I think if you read the SCONH decision you will see that the key phrase is this: "The petitioners concede that perfect compliance with the Federal Constitution and Part II, Article 11 is impossible; that is, they admit that the legislature could not have adopted a plan with an overall deviation of under 10% in which every town, ward or place having a population “within a reasonable deviation from the ideal population” has its own district." So the petitioners fail to make their case, because "The Supreme Court [of the United States] has held that population equality must be the predominant factor in redistricting plans."

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