St. Paul beat: Political lines made at judicial hearing

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2011 - 5:51 PM

Start with the word "redistricting" and then add a heaping helping of political cunning, well-connected lawyers and five erudite judges.

Give the lawyers 90 minutes to make their cases, let the judges ask questions, then try to untangle the real arguments beneath the legal razzle-dazzle.

Such was the arrangement on Wednesday before a panel of District Court judges led by Court of Appeals Judge Wilhelmina Wright. The panel will devise criteria for the once-a-decade redrawing of the state's political boundaries. The panel gets pressed into duty only if the Legislature is unable to redraw the maps itself. (Is it possible the Legislature would fail to agree on an explosive political matter? Pshaw.)

At stake is political control of the Legislature.

The legal contortions from both sides came with claims to the moral high ground.

GOP lawyer and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson told the judges that their process must be "fair, reasonable and objective."

Said DFL lawyer Marc Elias: "The paramount interest of the court is what's good for the citizens of Minnesota."

But each is trying to protect their constituencies. DFLers want to keep "communities of interest" together, which can mean giving electoral power to pockets of minority voters who tend to vote DFL. Republicans want districts based purely on numbers, with fewer meandering boundaries to accommodate such communities.

Of course, the lawyers did not state such aims outright. Instead, court arguments focused on the appropriate statistical standard deviation, how many counties should be counted as part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, whether the Constitution or state law should be weighed first as a criteria and whether the current legislative districts should be immediately nullified or allowed to stand until redistricting is complete.

The good news: Nobody will be done with redistricting soon, so we all have time to become savvy voters.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035

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