New Hampshire Supreme Court takes over congressional redistricting process

By Christian Wade | The Center Square

New Hampshire’s highest court is taking over redrawing of new congressional maps for the state amid an impasse between Gov. Chris Sununu and lawmakers that have made it one of the last states to finalize new House districts.

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New Hampshire Supreme Court

In an order issued Monday, New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald said the high court is taking over the redistricting case from the Superior Court, saying the issue needs to be resolved quickly.

“We take this supervisory action because the case is one in which the parties desire, and the public need requires, a speedy determination of the important issues in controversy,” MacDonald and the four associate justices wrote in the seven-page order.

The court’s order stems from a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court by former Democratic House Speaker Terie Norelli and several other plaintiffs. The suit asked a judge to toss out congressional maps that were approved by the House and Senate over Sununu’s objections and create new boundaries for the two districts ahead of the 2022 elections.

In its order, the high court says the state’s deadline for filing to run for Congress – which runs from June 1-10 – and a primary are approaching without the resolution to the impasse.

“Accordingly, we must take certain preliminary steps in this case now so that, in the event that the legislative process fails to produce a fully enacted congressional redistricting plan, we will be prepared to resolve the case in a thorough and efficient manner,” the justices wrote.

The court said it plans to appoint Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School, to serve as a “special master” to oversee fact finding and provide technological expertise to the justices as they review the case. Legal briefs in the case are due in two weeks and oral arguments will begin early next month, the order states.

The new maps, drawn by the state’s Republican majority, would make the 1st Congressional District more Republican by shifting several GOP-leaning communities into the district while the 2nd Congressional District would be slightly more Democratic by including several Democratic-leaning communities. Both House seats are currently held by Democrats.

Sununu pledged to veto the maps even before the House and Senate voted to approve them. The Republican said the districts don’t “pass the smell test” and offered his own proposal.

The impasse leaves New Hampshire as just one of three states – Florida and Missouri are the others – that have yet to finalize the redistricting process following the 2020 Census, according to analysis from FiveThirtyEight.

The U.S. Constitution requires states to draw new congressional district lines every 10 years, following the census, to account for changes in population. States also use those numbers to draw maps for their federal and state legislative districts.

In the order, New Hampshire’s high court points out that taking over the redistricting case doesn’t prevent Sununu and the Legislature from reaching an agreement on the new political maps.

“We will terminate this proceeding if a congressional reapportionment plan is validly enacted at any time prior to the close of this case,” the order states.

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