Lawyers for Connecticut’s redistricting panel are expected to appear before the state Supreme Court Thursday morning to argue for more time to complete a new map of the five congressional districts.
During a meeting on its Nov. 30 deadline, the nine-member Reapportionment Commission voted unanimously to seek an extension from the state’s high court in order to complete its work by Dec. 21.
According to documents filed this week, the court has ordered a lawyer for the bipartisan group to participate in a remote hearing Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to address the status of the panel’s ongoing process; whether a court-appointed mediator, called a special master, should be named and what that person’s role in the process should be.
As of last week, the redistricting panel had completed two thirds of its once-in-a-decade task. In November, it approved new maps for state House and Senate voting districts to reflect population shifts recorded by the U.S. Census survey.
However, the panel had yet to begin negotiating new boundaries for Connecticut’s five U.S. representative seats before it hit a deadline triggering involvement by the state Supreme Court.
In a petition last week to the court on behalf of the Reapportionment Commission, the state attorney general’s office cited unusual obstacles faced by this year’s panel including delays by the federal census agency, which was due to release its data in April but did not until August, and the commission’s task of implementing a new state law requiring prison inmates to be counted in the district of their last home address rather than the district in which they are incarcerated.
“Petitioners respectfully pray that this Court issue an order…remanding the matter to the Commission to resume its consideration of the alteration of the congressional districts until December 21, 2021,” assistant attorneys general wrote in this petition last week.
The lawyers for the panel cited the court’s willingness to extend the redistricting process in prior decades. In 2011, for instance, negotiations over the congressional map extended until it was eventually approved in February of 2012. The court appointed a special master, a constitutional law professor named Nathaniel Persily who, at that time, taught at Columbia Law School.
However, members of this year’s panel were optimistic during their last meeting that a new map could be agreed upon before Dec. 21. And on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the group wished to avoid involvement of a third party special master. Candelora was concerned by language in the court order contemplating a special master’s role.
“I would hope the court wouldn’t go that route this soon, given that we haven’t reached an impasse, we just ran out of time because of COVID and the census data came to us six months later than it normally does,” Candelora said. “We hope we’ll be given a couple of weeks to finish our job.”
Although Connecticut’s overall population has remained roughly consistent over the past decade, growing by about 1%, the panel must remap the congressional voting districts to account for a dramatic population shift from the eastern half of the state to Fairfield County in the southwest corner.
Candelora said members of the commission have continued to work towards agreement even as they await the court’s blessing to finish their work. He said the group was hoping to exchange map ideas by the end of this week.
“We want to try to finish before the end of the year. Ideally, we finish before Christmas. We wanted to demonstrate to the court that we are not interested in dragging our feet. Give us three weeks to draw a map,” he said.