The Alaska Supreme Court said Tuesday that it affirmed a lower court ruling that the board tasked with redrawing the state’s political boundaries “again engaged in unconstitutional political gerrymandering” and ordered the use of a new map for this year’s elections.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews in his ruling last week said it appeared that the majority of the Alaska Redistricting Board’s members had adopted a map splitting the Eagle River area into two Senate districts for “political reasons.”
The map that Matthews ordered the board to adopt in part pairs the Eagle River area House districts into a Senate district. It was the other option the board had considered when it was weighing revisions in response to a prior order by the state Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court affirmed Matthews’ order for the adoption of the map for this year’s elections.
Tuesday’s decision came just ahead of the June 1 filing deadline for the August primaries and followed a second round of challenges to the board’s work.
Peter Torkelson, the board’s executive director, said the board appreciated the court’s “swift guidance.” In a statement, he said the board will meet as soon as possible to implement the interim plan.
The Supreme Court earlier this year found constitutional issues with elements of a map drawn by the board last fall. In one instance, the court ruled that a state Senate district pairing part of east Anchorage and the Eagle River area constituted an “unconstitutional political gerrymander.”
The five-member board then returned to work. The revised plan it adopted in a 3-2 vote last month prompted challenges that focused on the board’s decision to link part of the Eagle River area with south Anchorage and Girdwood for a Senate district and another part of the Eagle River area to an area that includes a military base for another Senate district.
Matthews said he found that the board had “intentionally discriminated against the communities of Girdwood and South Anchorage in order to maximize senate representation for Eagle River and the Republican party.”
Attorneys for the board, in asking the Supreme Court to review Matthews’ decision, called his order a “rambling, unprincipled, result-oriented decision” and labeled it “the antithesis of deference to an independent constitutional entity.”