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N.H. Supreme Court names special master, sets dates in redistricting suit

Legislative redistricting debate in Concord, N.H.
Peter Biello
Critics of a proposed legislative redistricting plan held signs outside a committee meeting at the N.H. State House on Sept. 29, 2021. The legislative boundaries are updated every 10 years based on the decennial Census numbers.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has named a special master and set court dates to resolve a lawsuit over congressional redistricting should Republican lawmakers and Gov. Chris Sununu remain at an impasse over a new congressional map for the state.

The Supreme Court said assigning a master for the case, Stanford Law School professor, Nathaniel Persily, and setting a timetable for hearings, are “preliminary steps” that “in no way precludes the legislature from enacting a redistricting plan.”

The lawsuit triggering the court’s actions was brought by former New Hampshire House Speaker Terie Norelli and several other plaintiffs last month. They allege holding the 2022 elections under current maps would violate the Constitution due to population changes over the past decade.

Their suit was filed last month, shortly after Sununu threatened to veto the map backed by the Republicans in the Legislature.

Sununu had long made clear his distaste for that map, which would move about 25% of New Hampshire voters from one district to another and tilt the 1st District more Republican and the 2nd District more Democrat.

Sununu said enacting the map would be to effectively guarantee a Republican win in the 1st District, and a Democrat in the 2nd District. New Hampshire’s 1st District, in particular, has seen both parties win elections over the past two decades. Democrats have held the 2nd District since 2012.

“The proposed Congressional redistricting map is not in the best interest of New Hampshire and I will veto it as soon as it reaches my desk,” Sununu said last month, after the map cleared the state Senate. “The citizens of this state are counting on us to do better.”

Sununu later proposed his own map, which no lawmaker has since endorsed. Both sides remain at a standstill, with no public timeline for negotiations.

Under the Supreme Court’s timetable, parties to the case -- including the plaintiffs, the House, the Senate, and Secretary of State, as well as any intervenor -- must file briefs by April 25.

The Court set a May 4 hearing for oral arguments on “preliminary issues,” followed by a hearing before the special master on May 19.

Oral arguments on any map created by the Special Master would take place May 24.

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