Alaska Supreme Court rules Senate map for Anchorage unconstitutional and ‘political gerrymander’

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that a map of state Senate districts for Anchorage is unconstitutional and that it constitutes “political gerrymander."
Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 6:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that a map of state Senate districts for Anchorage is unconstitutional and that it constitutes “political gerrymander,” and has upheld a lower court’s ruling that it must be redrawn.

According to a ruling published Friday, the boundaries for Senate District K set by the Alaska Redistricting Board violate “equal protection under the Alaska Constitution.” The Senate map approved by the board had paired Eagle River with parts of East Anchorage, and prompted accusations of gerrymandering.

Some Anchorage residents sued over the boundaries, and a lower court previously struck down that map, with an Anchorage Superior Court judge saying there was evidence that suggested “some sort of coalition or at least a tacit understanding” between conservative board members Bethany Marcum, John Binkley and Budd Simpson. Those three members of the five-member redistricting board voted to appeal the lower court’s decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision by the lower court that the board’s paring of South Muldoon with Eagle River Valley in the Senate district “constituted political gerrymander.” The high court also affirmed the lower-court decision to send the map back to the redistricting board to “correct the constitutional error.”

Each Alaska Senate district is made up of two Alaska House districts. In addition to the lawsuit filed over the East Anchorage state Senate map, lawsuits were filed over House district boundaries for Juneau and northern Southeast Alaska, as well as by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and City of Valdez over a number of House districts.

The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision to send the boundaries for Juneau and northern Southeast Alaska back to the board for more work, saying “there is no constitutional infirmity with House Districts 3 and 4 and no need for further work by the board.”

The Supreme Court largely upheld the rest of the redistricting board’s House district map, though it did strike down what’s referred to as the “Cantwell Appendage,” which the court described as House District 36 reaching across a borough boundary to “extract” Cantwell residents out of District 30 and place them in District 36. The high court ordered that the Cantwell Appendage be sent back to the board and corrected.

The deadline for candidates to file to run for the Alaska Legislature is June 1, and district boundaries need to be finalized in order for candidates to know which districts they live in.

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