The future of Connecticut’s congressional districts is back in the hands of a court-appointed special master after a last-minute appeal for compromise this week among legislative Democrats and Republicans failed to produce results.
The once-a-decade task of redrawing the boundaries of Connecticut’s five congressional districts wound up in the state Supreme Court’s purview late-last year when a bipartisan legislative panel missed a critical deadline to approve a plan.
During a hearing this week, Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University professor tasked with developing the court’s redistricting plan, said legislators seemed close to a compromise and urged them to make one last attempt at negotiations. Persily gave legislators a Wednesday deadline to produce results.
“Unfortunately it didn’t come to fruition,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said Thursday. “We’re still at a deadlock or an impasse.”
Kelly, who along with House Speaker Matt Ritter co-chairs the Reapportionment Commission, said he and Ritter attempted to reach an agreement after Monday’s court hearing.
“We looked at maps. We traded ideas, took them back to our respective sides. And we looked at, was there common ground we could get to?” Kelly said.
Ultimately the answer was no, an outcome, which Kelly chalked up to pressure from the state’s current, all-Democratic delegation of congressional incumbents.
In its guidance to the special master, the state Supreme Court instructed Persily to produce a map which evens the populations of the five congressional districts while making the least changes possible to their current boundaries.
“That’s the backdrop. If we don’t get to an agreement we get to a least-change map, which helps Democrats,” Kelly said. “The bargaining power wasn’t equal like it was in the rest of the process.”
Prior to negotiating the congressional maps, the commission unanimously approved new state House and Senate districts.
During Monday’s hearing, Ritter disputed the idea that the congressional districts were not politically competitive in their current shapes. He pointed to the 2018 gubernatorial race in which Republican Bob Stefanowski beat out Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, in both the 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts.
“So the idea there’s not competition, I don’t think the stats back that up,” Ritter said.
Although Connecticut’s overall population remained relatively stable through the last 10 years, the 2020 census recorded a shift in population which grew in Fairfield County and dwindled in eastern Connecticut. In order to ensure each district has roughly 721,000 residents, the new plan must move more than 21,000 people into the under-populated 2nd District while removing more than 25,000 people from the crowded 4th District.
Ahead of this week’s hearing, Democrats and Republicans both submitted separate plans that make modest changes to even the populations of the districts. One of the largest deviations in the two plans involved the city of Torrington, which Democrats proposed leaving split between the 1st and 5th Districts and Republicans called for moving entirely into the 5th but displacing more residents from the current district in the process.
However, Republicans urged the court to consider more drastic alterations including reducing the contorted shape of the 1st District, known as the “lobster claw.”
Persily said Republicans were free to make their argument to the court. However, the court order restricts him from producing a map with dramatic changes to the current districts. Still, he urged the commission to reach their own agreement, if possible.
“Because I can tell you from my experience, having done this many times, sometimes I come up with a plan that displeases everybody,” he said.
The special master has until Tuesday, Jan. 18 to submit a plan to the court. The court expects to finalize a map by Feb. 15.