The lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, and other Utah residents claims that the Utah legislature intentionally drew congressional districts to serve their political purpose.
Every ten years the U.S. government does a census and collects information on populations. They use that information to reassign voting blocks, which are called districts. According to Caroline Gleich a local activist, Better Boundaries and citizen activists were aware of the upcoming reassignment of voting blocks in 2020, also known as ‘redistricting,’ and wanted change.
She said Better Boundary activists wanted to change how district boundaries were drawn in Utah because they believed that past politicians have used the district maps to keep themselves in power — which is a form of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is the intentional manipulation of district boundaries to favor one party over another. “Politicians essentially pick their voters rather than the other way around,” Gleich said.
Better Boundary activists collected 200,000 signatures to put Proposition 4 on the ballot. Prop 4 would create a nonpartisan group to redraw district lines, instead of the politicians. Prop 4 passed, but quickly faced challenges, and was canceled by the Utah legislature. According to Gleich, this is a key part of the lawsuit, as it is illegal to cancel a proposition like in that way.
According to the lawsuit, the Utah legislature made a commission advisory that went around the state, did hundreds of hours of listening sessions, and created redistricted maps. The new maps were presented to the legislature, but at the last minute, the politicians in power decided to use their own maps. They gave the public less than three days’ notice to protest before they were approved.
“It seemed like the way it happened they didn’t want people to see and notice what they were doing,” Gleich said.
The lawsuit alleges two claims; one is that the state legislature is violating Utah citizens’ constitutional rights when they undid Proposition 4, and the second claim is that the state legislature is participating in illegal partisan gerrymandering for the way the maps were drawn.
Gleich said that this entire thing is disheartening, as it takes away some of the hope she looks for in policy change.
“Seeing all the problems that people and the planet are facing, one of the ways I find hope is by working on policy solutions and going to the government and using government as a tool for problem-solving,” Gleich said. “But when we can’t pick the people who represent us when we’re unable to elect representatives that can advocate for our needs, then we lose out on that power.”
However, representatives for the State of Utah say it is the State Legislature’s authority to draw congressional maps and not the court.
“I think at the end of the day what this case is about is whether or not we’re going to follow the constitution of the state of Utah that says the elected representative of the people of the State are those that have to do the redistricting, in the light of day, through the legislative process,” Brad Wilson, District 15 Representative said. “Instead of putting it into an independent group, that the voters don’t have any accountability to.”
There was no official decision today in the Supreme Court, but they said that today’s proceedings were superbly argued, and will make a decision on a later date, likely a few months down the road.