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Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Redistricting Move Unconstitutional, AG's Office Says

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE The state attorney general contends it would be unconstitutional for the Senate to redo its own 42-seat redistricting plan because it was approved by legislators and signed into law last year by then-Gov. Gary Johnson.
    "The Senate's membership was reapportioned by a statute enacted in 2002, after the official report of the 2000 Census," Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Glenn said in an opinion written at the request of Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee.
    "This was sufficient to trigger the constitutional prohibition against further redistricting," Glenn said in a Feb. 28 letter to Lopez.
    Glenn noted that Article IV, Section 3 of the state Constitution specifies the Legislature "may by statute reapportion its membership" once after each federal decennial census.
    Glenn said a bill (SB 846), sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, "which attempts to redistrict the Senate a second time after the 2000 Census is unconstitutional." The bill is before Lopez's committee.
    Glenn did not address a separate Senate bill (SB 667) to reopen New Mexico's congressional redistricting, which was decided by a state judge in 2002 after the Legislature and Johnson failed to agree on new Census-adjusted boundaries for the state's three U.S. House seats.
    "We don't have any request (for an opinion) on the congressional redistricting," Deputy Attorney General Stuart Bluestone said Monday.
    However, the attorney general might not issue an opinion on congressional redistricting, even if asked, because the issue is likely to end up in court if legislators persist in reopening the issue, Bluestone said.
    "If it ends up in litigation, it might not be proper for this office to issue an opinion if it's going to be decided by a court," Bluestone said. "We have been doing some preliminary research on it, and the issue does not seem clear-cut like the Senate redistricting and it may be unprecedented."
    Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, and other Senate Democrats contend legislators are within their rights to redraw the map of New Mexico's U.S. House districts because they were decided by a judge not by legislators and the governor.
    Regarding state Senate redistricting, some senators had argued legislators could redraw the map of the state's 42 Senate districts because a general election using the new boundaries has not been held. The Senate is up for election in 2004.
    Glenn said that argument "is not supported by the language" of the state Constitution, "which allows redistricting once 'by statute.' ''
    New Mexico's overall redistricting effort, using the 2000 Census, cost taxpayers more than $4 million, including a special session and two court trials.