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    Monday, November 28, 2022

    Connecticut Supreme Court hears redistricting arguments from Democrats and Republicans

    The proposed new congressional districting map drawn by the state Supreme Court-appointed special master Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford political scientist and law professor, preserves the so-called "lobster claw" of the 5th District.

    The state Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers for Democrats and Republicans on the Reapportionment Commission regarding whether the state’s congressional map should remain mostly the same or be rebuilt.

    In a Thursday morning hearing, the court heard Aaron Bayer, the Democrats’ lawyer, argue in favor of a court-appointed special master’s plan to barely alter the map in favor of evening the population among Connecticut’s five Congressional Districts.

    Proloy Das, who represented Republicans on the commission, argued that the proposed map will sustain power for Democrats, as the party has controlled Connecticut’s congressional seats for more than a decade.

    Justices did not ask any questions during the almost 30-minute hearing.

    Das’s argument rested on the so-called “lobster claw,” or awkwardly drawn 5th Congressional District, which Republican legislators have been speaking out against as an example of gerrymandering from 20 years ago that’s become embroiled in the redistricting process in the decades since. He urged the court to take up the matter again, as the map by special master Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University political scientist and law professor, preserves the lobster claw.

    “The Connecticut Constitution allows this court to draw the map,” he said Thursday. “It’s the only way we can fix the current gerrymandered lobster claw that defines our present map.”

    Das said the court also applied a “minimum change standard” 10 years ago during the last redistricting process. “When that was being argued in 2012 it was expressly acknowledged that because redistricting is so unique and it happens every 10 years, it would have no precedential effect,” he said.

    Das blamed the current map’s configuration for a lack of Republican representation in Washington, D.C., from Connecticut. He said 40% to 47% of the state’s electorate consistently votes Republican, and questioned why Democrats have five seats to Republicans’ zero. He blamed, in part, influence from Connecticut Democrats in D.C. for stymying compromise and giving marching orders to state Democrats to keep the districts the same.

    Bayer pushed back on this thinking, saying that when the map was redrawn in 2001 — which closely resembles the current map — Republicans fared well.

    “In the ensuing election in 2002 Republicans won three of the five congressional seats. It took several elections thereafter before that changed,” Bayer said. “But it’s not because of the way the district lines were drawn. ... There was very little movement over the last 20 years between the Congressional Districts. It has to do with candidates and who the people voted for.”

    Bayer’s primary argument was that the legal process in place played out as it was intended, even if Republicans don’t like the result.

    “On December 23rd this court gave clear, unequivocal, very precise directives to the special master on how to prepare a reapportionment plan,” Bayer said. “The special master followed those directives meticulously and produced a plan that complies in every respect with this court’s order.”

    “The concept my opposing counsel is offering is to reject the special master’s plan even though it fully complies with this court’s order,” Bayer later added.

    As for the lobster claw: “It isn’t pretty, I admit, but if you go about trying to redraw that map, you will end up moving tens of thousands or probably hundreds of thousands of voters into new districts with profound political consequences that this court will have to own,” he said.

    The 2nd Congressional District, a seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, has a population of about 700,000 and may change during the redistricting process. Courtney has said he hopes more towns aren't added to the district.

    Though Connecticut's congressional redistricting still is incomplete, as a panel of legislators failed to come to an agreement, legislators were able to agree on new state Senate and state House district maps.

    The General Assembly's Reapportionment Commission's redrawn state Senate map doesn't really affect southeastern Connecticut. The region was more affected by the new state House district map.

    New London County is among the 52% of counties nationwide that saw a decrease in population from 2010 to 2020 and, like the rest of the United States, became more racially diverse, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The bureau in April of last year released data showing that Connecticut's population increased 0.9% over the decade to 3,605,944 residents, and later released more localized data that will be used for redistricting. The state isn't losing or gaining any congressional seats, but the new data impacts borders for congressional and state legislative districts.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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