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Republicans balk at court's choice for redistricting expert

State Senator Kevin Kelly
Image from CT-N video.
State Senator Kevin Kelly

Republican members of the state's bipartisan redistricting commission want the Connecticut Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to tap a Stanford University law professor to help redraw congressional districts after the group couldn’t reach a bipartisan agreement and missed its deadline this week.

The four commission members, all state legislators, filed a motion that requests Nathaniel Persily not serve as the court-appointed expert or special master and that two special masters instead be appointed “to preserve the public’s confidence in the fairness of the redistricting process.”

A copy of the motion to reconsider was released Thursday evening by the court.

The motion came hours after the state's highest court issued a notice announcing it had appointed Persily, who previously served as special master in 2011 during the last reapportionment process when Connecticut lawmakers also couldn’t reach a bipartisan agreement on congressional district boundaries.

The Republicans noted that Persily's name was not on the list of three possible special masters they had submitted for the court to consider. However, he was mentioned publicly by Democratic Senate President Martin Looney as someone the Democrats would recommend to the court. Ultimately, the Democrats did not submit any names.

“By rejecting the names offered by the Republican members, and selecting the only person publicly advocated for by the Democratic members, this Court risks deviating from its goal of ensuring that its role in the redistricting process does not have any appearance of partisanship,” the GOP members wrote in their motion.

The court has not yet responded to the Republicans' motion. A message was left seeking comment with a Judicial Branch spokesperson.

The GOP lawmakers noted in their motion that Republicans in North Carolina were upset with a redistricting plan submitted by Persily in 2017 and how Persily was one of the special masters proposed by Democrats in Virginia this year. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Virginia chose two special masters, one from the list offered by Republicans and one from the Democrats — the scenario the Connecticut GOP is now seeking.

Connecticut Republicans also argued in their motion that since Persily was the special master in 2011, he will be “partial to abiding by his prior work” and that would be “substantially unfair” to the Republicans on the Reapportionment Commission "who believe that the maps should avoid partisan gerrymandering and be drawn in accord with traditional redistricting principles.”

A message was left seeking comment with Persily, an election law expert who formerly taught at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions. Besides Connecticut and North Carolina, he previously served as a court-appointed expert to craft congressional or legislative redistricting plans in Maryland, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania, according to his Stanford Law School biography.

On Tuesday, the commission's deadline, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said that both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers had faced “external pressures” from people in Washington during their deliberations to redraw the congressional lines in a certain way, despite reaching agreement on how to redraw legislative districts.

But Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, blamed the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation for the process falling apart, accusing the five U.S. House members of wanting to retain safe districts.

According to a notice issued Thursday by the State Supreme Court, Persily is ultimately required to submit his plan to the justices on or before Jan. 18. The court will then accept submissions up until Jan. 24 and a hearing before the court is planned for Jan. 27. The court is expected to file its redistricting plan with the Office of the Secretary of the State by Feb. 15.

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