Trial over whether Dems gerrymandered NM’s congressional map to begin

By: - September 27, 2023 4:10 am

The New Mexico Supreme Court questions Republican Party attorney Daniel Gallegos during a January 9, 2023, hearing on the GOP’s lawsuit alleging Democrats politically gerrymandered the state’s 2021 congressional map. On Wednesday, July 5, the court sided with the GOP and gave the go-ahead for its case to be heard in district court. Nonpartisan advocates for fair redistricting say while it may be a “temporary win” for the Republicans, the decision is actually a victory for all New Mexico voters, regardless of party. (Screenshot courtesy NM Supreme Court livestream)

A trial over the version of New Mexico’s congressional map redrawn in 2021 is set to begin Wednesday in state district court.

The Republican Party and other plaintiffs argue Democratic lawmakers diluted GOP votes when they split the conservative southeastern corner of the state into three districts. Democrats argue redistricting is an inherently political process, but lawmakers acted appropriately in drawing a set of competitive districts.

The map’s first go around last year saw Democratic Rep. Gabe Vasquez eke out a win over incumbent Yvette Herrell in the 2nd Congressional District, which usually sends a Republican to Congress. The trial comes ahead of a likely rematch between the two in the 2024 election.

The district previously encompassed the entirety of southern New Mexico, including the oil-rich Permian Basin and vast agricultural land. It was redrawn to exclude a portion of the eastern border with Texas and add part of Albuquerque, including the heavily Hispanic and Democratic South Valley.

In January, the Supreme Court sided with the Republicans in allowing the case to be heard in state district court.

It also determined that some political gerrymandering is acceptable under the state and U.S. constitutions. Attorney for the plaintiffs Daniel Gallegos argued New Mexico’s Democratic-controlled Legislature went beyond that — violating the state’s Equal Protection Clause.

“Our claim is excessive gerrymandering,” he told the justices. “That this constitutes that egregious nature of gerrymandering.”

Attorney for Democratic leadership Sara Sanchez argued the plaintiffs are pushing back on a district that is simply harder for Republicans to win than it used to be.

“There’s no constitutional right to the same political performance that your district was before,” she said.

District Judge Fred Van Soelen will hear the case. He ruled last year that the plaintiffs had a strong argument for the map diluting Republican votes, but allowed it to be used for the impending midterm elections.  

The three-day trial is set to begin in the Fifth Judicial District Court Wednesday morning. The state Supreme Court has ordered Van Soelen to rule on the case no later than Oct. 6.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Nash Jones, KUNM News
Nash Jones, KUNM News

Nash Jones (they/them) grew up in Albuquerque and returned home in 2017 after 11 years away living in Portland, OR, and Oakland, CA. Storytelling and community education have consistently been at the core of Nash’s varied career and are, in part, what brought them to KUNM, first as a volunteer host with Spoken Word Hour and NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, then as a staff member in the KUNM newsroom, hosting Morning Edition (2018-2021) and reporting. Nash currently hosts NPR's All Things Considered and continues to report for KUNM.