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N.H. Supreme Court to lawmakers: If you don't draw a new congressional map, we will

The exterior of the New Hampshire Supreme Court
Todd Bookman
According to census data, nearly 18,000 more people currently live in the 1st Congressional District than in the 2nd. The court ruled that the maps need to be updated to reflect those changes.

New Hampshire’s Supreme Court says it will redraw the state’s congressional districts if lawmakers fail to enact a new plan by June 1, when the candidate filing period opens.

In a unanimous ruling issued Thursday, the court sided with Democratic plaintiffs who argued that running this year’s congressional races using political maps passed a decade ago would be illegal in light of changes in the state’s population. But they also said they plan to change those decade-old maps as little as possible.

“Any congressional redistricting plan that we may adopt will reflect the least change necessary to remedy the constitutional deficiencies in the existing congressional districts,” the justices wrote.

Lawyers representing the Republican House Speaker and Senate President argued that the Constitution gives state lawmakers exclusive authority over congressional redistricting, but the court rejected that premise. The court also dismissed Republican legislative leaders’ arguments that a federal court, not the state court, was the more appropriate venue for this kind of dispute.

“We hold that this court has jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of [the current Congressional map], and to formulate a remedy if the current congressional districting statute is unconstitutional and no redistricting plan is timely enacted by the legislature,” the justices wrote.

The justices also said they would rely entirely on the federal Constitution in this case.

Both sides in the case have said the court’s plans to change the maps as little as possible were appropriate. But agreement at the State House over what that might look like has been elusive.

According to census data, nearly 18,000 more people currently live in the 1st Congressional District than in the 2nd. Democrats want to fix this by moving one heavily Republican town, Hampstead, from the 1st to the 2nd district.

Republicans in the House have rejected that plan, passing two congressional redistricting proposals that made sweeping changes to current maps. Republican lawmakers have informally suggested that the unconstitutional population deviations in the current maps could also be fixed by moving several small towns in Carroll County from the 1st district to the 2nd.

As they have in previous orders on this year’s political maps, New Hampshire’s Supreme Court justices again this week stressed that lawmakers can end court involvement in the process by passing a map that complies with the Constitution.

“We reiterate that the legislature is not precluded from enacting a legally valid congressional district plan at any time prior to the close of this case,” they wrote

House and Senate leaders, meanwhile, named the negotiators Thursday who will try to reach agreement on a new map. They have until May 19 to sign off on any plan, which would be put to a vote by the House and Senate May 26.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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