Newly appointed Supreme Court Special Master Nathaniel Persily heard testimony Monday on how Democrats, Republicans, and members of the public would draw the five congressional districts, if given a chance.
“The map proposed by the Republicans satisfies the Supreme Court’s directive,” Ross Garber, an attorney for the Republicans told Persily during a public hearing at the Legislative Office Building Monday.
Persily, a Columbia Law School professor, was appointed by the Supreme Court to help the bipartisan Reapportionment Commission reach an agreement over how to draw the five congressional districts and on Monday he was brought up to speed on the political disagreements which resulted in gridlock.
Democrats argued there should be few if any changes made to the 2001 map, while Republicans proposed more dramatic changes, such as moving New Britain out of the 5th and into the 1st.
Any argument in favor of the 2001 map assumes it is in compliance with federal law, but it has never been subject to any judicial scrutiny, Garber said. The 2001 map was drawn with deference to incumbency and that’s how Waterbury was divided in two, he said.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, the only member of the current Reapportionment Commission who also served on the 2001 commission, said before 2001 none of the cities over 100,000 in population had ever been divided into two congressional districts.
“As a result of the efforts to try and accommodate the political interests of the two members of congress we ended up dividing Waterbury,“ O’Neill said.
He said back in 2001 the Democrats on the bipartisan commission kept telling them there weren’t enough Democrats being included in their version of the 5th district. He said Democrats felt that the Democrats in Waterbury didn’t always vote for Democrats and the solution was to divide Waterbury between the 5th and the 3rd to maintain a balance of power in the 5th district.
“That’s no where in any of the redistricting formulas,” O’Neill said.
He said the reason Republicans went along with the suggestion was because former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, a Republican, traditionally was able to win enough votes in New Britain to carry the city or at least not damage her chances of winning the district.
“She’s the only Republican that did well in New Britain in the last 40 years,“ O’Neill said.
He said the constituencies of Johnson and former U.S. Rep. James Maloney became “paramount” in the former commission’s decision about where to draw the lines.
“We thought they were fair for Jim Maloney, Nancy Johnson, and the 2002 election,” O’Neill told Persily. “But they made sense because that’s what we were focused on almost to the exclusion of all else. We didn‘t look at them as the permanent way the state of Connecticut would be divided up going forward.”
Andrew McDonald, chief legal counsel for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office, said under the Democratic proposal only 30,000 residents would be impacted, while the Republican plan calls for 185,000 people to be moved and in some instances up to 11 percent of an existing district would be moved to another district.
He said in many ways the Republican plan isolates and marginalizes the minority communities in Meriden, Danbury, New Britain and Waterbury.
“At its core the Republican plan achieves maximum disruption for minimal change,” McDonald said.
He said the comments made by Rep. O’Neill about his time on the commission in 2001 must be taken as personal remarks and can not be imputed for the motivations of the other members of the commission.
An attorney for the Democrats said the special master isn’t even allowed to consider most of the information he was handed Monday if he wants to fulfill the requirements of the court order.
Aaron Bayer, the attorney for the Democrats, said the Republican presentation Monday would have been appropriate, if Persily had been engaged during earlier deliberations by the bipartisan committee, however, he was engaged by the Supreme Court to fulfill its limited constitutional authority.
“Your authority is limited by the court’s Jan. 3 order,” Bayer told Persily. “Much of what you heard today is not directed to the requirements of that order.”
He said the court order does not ask the special master to start from scratch and consider everything put forward during Monday’s public hearing.
“Almost no changes are required,” Bayer said. “The maximum number of people that have to be moved from one district to another is about 2 percent from the 2nd district.”
And if you look at the 5th district only 523 have to be moved out, not the entire city of New Britain, he added.
Local elected officials from Meriden and New Britain attended the hearing and told the special master they would like to stay in the 5th district where they share common interests and one congressman. New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien said if his city was moved into the 1st district with Hartford their voices would be drowned out by the larger needs of the Capital city.
There are currently eight candidates vying for the 5th district in the 2012 election, including House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden.