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Connecticut court rejects GOP challenge of special redistricting official

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Frankie Graziano
/
Connecticut Public Radio

The Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday, using terse language at times, denied a motion filed by Republican members of the state’s redistricting commission to have the court reconsider its decision to tap a Stanford University law professor to help redraw the state’s congressional district boundaries after the group couldn’t agree on a plan.

In the court’s three-page order, which says the GOP’s claim of procedural unfairness in choosing Nathaniel Persily “borders on frivolous,” the justices defended their decision and said the nationally recognized expert on election law and redistricting was chosen “on the merits and without any consideration of politics whatsoever.”

The justices said they “rejected in the strongest possible terms” the suggestion that partisanship played a role in choosing Persily, the same expert the court appointed in 2011 when the state legislators were again unable to reach agreement on how to redraw Connecticut’s congressional districts to accommodate population changes.

“We do not welcome unsolicited partisan filings and will not permit this Court to merely become an extension of the breakdown of the process the people of the state have commanded,” read the order, which was signed ”By the Court."

“This Court has a constitutional obligation to establish a plan of redistricting by February 15, 2022, which is less than eight weeks away,” the justices wrote. “It intends to fulfill that obligation.”

The four Republican members of the state’s Reapportionment Commission, all state legislators, filed a motion on Christmas Eve requesting that Persily not serve as the court-appointed expert or special master and that two special masters — one from the Republicans and one from the Democrats — instead be appointed “to preserve the public’s confidence in the fairness of the redistricting process.”

The GOP lawmakers suggested in their motion that Persily 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.”

Also, they said Persily’s name was not on the list of three possible special masters they had submitted for the court to consider, but Persily 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.

In Tuesday’s order from the court, the justices noted they had asked the commission to provide only three names of potential special masters that both Republicans and Democrats had agreed upon, not partisan selections. The panel, however, couldn’t agree on three potential candidates. The GOP still submitted its three picks. The court argued that it was left with no other choice but to move ahead and appoint a special master.

“It should surprise no one that the Court selected a nationally recognized expert in the area of redistricting to assist it when the petitioners chose to offer this Court no bipartisan assistance,” wrote the justices, who said Persily’s familiarity with Connecticut’s congressional districts should be helpful.

The Democrats, who submitted a brief on Monday opposing the Republicans’ request, said Looney's comments about Persily in a news article was not the same as formally submitting his name for consideration.