DENVER — Republicans who lost a federal court battle over Colorado congressional redistricting said Tuesday they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting off another round in the contentious battle over new election maps.
John Zakhem said a decision by federal judges to throw out the last remaining challenge to Colorado’s congressional districts was unconstitutional because it deprived citizens of their right to hold their legislators accountable.
A special three-judge panel dismissed the challenge on grounds the state Supreme Court resolved the case when it upheld a congressional redistricting plan drawn by a district court judge and supported by Democrats.
Zakhem said he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rule before next year’s elections.
“This is about states’ rights versus federal mandates. District lines should not be drawn by the courts. This is a critical and hot issue. There are going to be elections next year and they need to act quickly,” Zakhem said.
The district map was drawn up by a state judge in 2002 after lawmakers could not agree on boundaries.
Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, said Republicans are trying to take advantage of two new appointments by President Bush to the Supreme Court. John Roberts was recently confirmed as chief justice, and Bush has nominated Harriet Miers, who could be seated before the end of the year.
“As in most things, timing is everything. They are waiting for two new Bush appointees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” Fitz-Gerald said.
Republican lawmakers said the judge’s map was only temporary and drew their own in 2003. It gave the GOP an edge in the 7th Congressional District, which had been largely a toss-up under the judge’s map.
The redistricting map adopted by the then-Republican-controlled Legislature at the end of the 2003 session would have moved southwest Weld County back into the 4th Congressional District.
Under the map used in the 2002 election and since, southwest Weld County, which had been in the 4th during the 1990s and in the 2000 election, is now in the 2nd Congressional District, along with most of Boulder County.
However, Longmont, which was shifted from the 2nd Congressional District to the 4th in the 2002 redistricting, would have stayed in the 4th under the GOP-preferred plan the Legislature tried to enact in 2003.
Democrats filed suit in state court challenging the GOP plan and the Colorado Supreme Court threw out the Republican map, restoring the judge’s version. The Supreme Court said redistricting can be done only once a decade, after the federal census but before the next general election, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.
Undeterred, three Republicans, joined by a Democrat, filed a lawsuit as individuals in federal court, contending the state Supreme Court had violated their First Amendment right to petition the Legislature. The lawsuit said the court had wrongly restricted the number of times the Legislature may redraw congressional districts.
However, a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court said in July the lawsuit was moot because the plaintiffs’ case had been heard in state court.
In their appeal, Republicans said the issue is substantial and needs to be resolved.
“The decision means that no individual who has cast, or will cast, a vote for Colorado’s representatives has ever been heard, or can ever be heard, by a federal court on the merits of this federal constitutional issue and Coloradans will have to vote in elections illegally carried out under the state court plan until, at the earliest, 2012,” the appeal said.
Zakhem said he is confident the appeal will succeed because three Supreme Court justices dissented when the court refused to hear the previous appeal from Colorado on the issue.
Daily Times-Call writer John Fryar contributed to this report.