IN RE 2011 REDISTRICTING CASES No. S-14441.
274 P.3d 466 (2012)
In re 2011 REDISTRICTING CASES.
Supreme Court of Alaska.
March 14, 2012.
Before: CARPENETI, Chief Justice, Matthews, Senior Justice, Fabe, Winfree, and Stowers, Justices.
1. Both petitions for review of the superior court's orders regarding the Redistricting Board's Proclamation Plan of June 13, 2011, are
2. This case is
3. At the outset, we commend the Board for its diligence and dedication throughout the redistricting process. The record demonstrates that the Board endeavored to weigh competing constitutional and statutory provisions, considered a great deal of input from Alaska's citizens, and sought to create a plan that would accommodate both the Alaska Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The redistricting process in Alaska is difficult, and, in this case, the Board made conscientious efforts in discharging its duties.
5. In Hickel v. Southeast Conference, we considered a Proclamation Plan that, like the Plan in this case, "accorded minority voting strength priority above other factors, including the requirements of article VI, section 6 of the Alaska Constitution."
6. It is undisputed that the Board began redistricting in March and April of 2011 by focusing on complying with the Voting Rights Act, thereby ignoring the process we mandated in Hickel. This focus resulted in the creation of five effective Native house districts, one "influence" house district, and three effective Native senate districts. The superior court found that two of these house districts violated the Alaska Constitution and were not necessary to achieve Voting Rights Act compliance. In his petition, Riley alleges other constitutional defects, including one related to the Board's use of excess population from the Fairbanks North Star Borough to complete one of these Native districts. And the superior court expressed unease with the "influence" district created in the southeast and invited us to consider its validity sua sponte.
7. Because it did not follow the Hickel process, the Board cannot meaningfully demonstrate that the Proclamation Plan's Alaska constitutional deficiencies were necessitated by Voting Rights Act compliance, nor can we reliably decide that question. The Hickel process provides the Board with defined procedural steps that, when followed, ensure redistricting satisfies federal law without doing unnecessary violence to the Alaska Constitution. The Board must first design a plan focusing on compliance with the article VI, section 6 requirements of contiguity, compactness, and relative socioeconomic integration; it may consider local government boundaries and should use drainage and other geographic features in describing boundaries wherever possible. Once such a plan is drawn, the Board must determine whether it complies with the Voting Rights Act and, to the extent it is noncompliant, make revisions that deviate from the Alaska Constitution
8. The Hickel process assures compliance with the Alaska Constitution's requirements concerning redistricting to the greatest extent possible. The Hickel process also diminishes the potential for partisan gerrymandering and promotes trust in government. We have previously noted that the article VI, section 6 requirements were designed to prevent gerrymandering by ensuring "that the election district boundaries fall along natural or logical lines rather than political or other lines."
9. Cases decided by the United States Supreme Court subsequent to Hickel have made adherence to the Hickel process even more critical. In a series of cases, the Supreme Court has established that under the Voting Rights Act, a jurisdiction cannot unnecessarily depart from traditional redistricting principles
10. We recognize that the Board is faced with a difficult task in attempting to harmonize the requirements of the Alaska Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. We have previously characterized the redistricting process in Alaska as "a task of `Herculean proportions,'"
11. On remand, the Board must follow the Hickel process. If deviation from the Alaska Constitution is the only means available to satisfy the Voting Rights Act's requirements, the Board must endeavor to adopt a redistricting plan that includes the least deviation reasonably necessary to satisfy the Act, thereby preserving the mandates of the Alaska Constitution to the greatest extent possible.
12. Because the new plan eventually formulated by the Board may moot the claims raised in this case, we decline to decide them at this time with the exceptions set out in the following paragraphs. If the Board is unable
13. We address one legal question raised by Riley: whether the superior court erred in ruling that "the anti-dilution rule cannot be violated if the City [of Fairbanks] cannot support a senate district based on its population." It is undisputed that the population of the City of Fairbanks makes up 89 percent of an ideal senate district. That fact does not preclude Riley's voter dilution claim. Indeed, in Kenai Peninsula Borough v. State, we allowed a group of Anchorage voters making up only 51 percent of an ideal senate district to bring a similar voter dilution claim, indicating that ".51 senate seat underrepresentation ... tends toward disproportionality."
14. We also address one legal question raised by the Board: whether the superior court erred in ruling that House Districts 37 and 38 did not comply with the Alaska Constitution based on the rationale that "all five of the [Native] effective House Districts have more Native VAP [voting age population] than necessary." Given the under-population of the five Native effective house districts, this particular rationale does not justify concluding that Districts 37 and 38 were not necessary under the Voting Rights Act because, as the superior court elsewhere concluded, "[i]t was not a matter of whether excess population needed to be added to rural Native districts but only a matter of where to access this excess urban population...."
Entered by direction of the court.
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