Facing an already-prolonged deadline next week, Connecticut’s redistricting committee sought Wednesday to delay compliance with a state Supreme Court order that it propose candidates to supervise negotiations of a new congressional district map.
The bipartisan Reapportionment Commission’s request was included in an update to the court late Wednesday. The process of adjusting the state’s five congressional districts to reflect population changes came under court jurisdiction when the panel missed a Nov. 30 deadline.
Last week, the Supreme Court granted the group’s request to extend its deadline until Dec. 21, but also ordered it to produce, by Wednesday, three candidates to potentially serve as a “special master” to oversee negotiations and ensure the group produces a map.
The commission has resisted the appointment of a special master, attributing missed deadlines to months-long delays in census data rather than an impasse in negotiations. In its update this week, the group did not supply names for candidates.
“Given the time constraints the Commission is under, coupled with the extraordinarily difficult circumstances the Commission has contended with during this redistricting cycle due to the delayed release of the census data, the Commission requests that it be afforded a short extension of up to six days, until December 21, 2021, in which to submit names of special masters so that it can focus its efforts on the important constitutional task before it,” a lawyer for the commission wrote in the interim report.
As of Wednesday, the group was not at an impasse in negotiations, according to the report. Since last week, members of the commission have exchanged map proposals and are “engaged in productive dialogue” over the suggestions, it said.
However, during a hearing last week, court justices seemed intent on beginning preparations for assigning a special master in case the commission ultimately arrived at an impasse.
“Hope is just not a plan of action,” Chief Justice Richard Robinson said last week. “So I’m trying to figure out what we need to do to do our due diligence and run on a parallel path.”
Ten years ago, the last time the state’s voting districts were adjusted, the commission reached an impasse. The court appointed a special master, a constitutional law professor named Nathaniel Persily who, at that time, taught at Columbia Law School. A congressional map wasn’t approved until February of 2012.
Senate President Martin Looney said Thursday that Democrats on the commission had considered some potential special masters to submit to the court, namely Persily. Looney said there were relatively few experts to choose from.
“There are a limited number of people who are experts in this field, nationwide. It’s a fairly small group of specialists,” Looney said.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Republicans on the panel were seeking to avoid being drawn into a debate on who the court should appoint and were determined to negotiate a new map without a court-named supervisor.
“If we’re looking at a new map, I don’t think it makes sense to pick the same person that drew a map 10 years ago to build off that foundation. I think a clean slate approach would make the most sense but it’s not something we want to get caught up in debating” Candelora said.
Candelora said Republicans are looking for “incremental change” on a number of fronts including reducing the claw-shaped interaction of the 1st and 5th Congressional Districts and moving the city of Torrington entirely within the 5th District. He said Democrats were under pressure to preserve the lines of districts which have allowed them to hold all five congressional seats for more than a decade.
“Obviously we want to see some level of change, given that there hasn’t been any Republican representation in Congress for over a decade,” Candelora said. “I think we’re all under different levels of pressure and [negotiating] how we draw a map that accommodates all those different pressures as well as how do we make an attempt to make sure communities of interest are protected.”
Looney said the new map should focus on adjusting for population shifts. For instance, the 2nd District, on the eastern half of the state where population declined sharply, needs to expand to gain 22,000 people and the 4th, on the southwestern edge, needs to shed 25,000, he said.
In general, Looney said the commission should avoid large alterations.
“I believe we should keep the changes as minimal as possible given the population constraints we have,” Looney said. “I think we should keep the map as close as we can to what we adopted 10 years ago, obviously certain changes have to be made to accommodate population shifts.”
With its next deadline on Tuesday, both commission members said they were still optimistic an agreement could be reached in time. The panel plans to exchange another round of map proposals this week.