Colorado’s independent redistricting commissions have hired attorneys days before a crucial legal deadline in a fast-moving state supreme court case that could alter the once-in-a-decade political map drawing process.
Hiring lawyers who will advise the commissions and represent them in legal matters, like the one now headed to the state high court, comes just in time to formulate and articulate the legislative and congressional redistricting commissions’ positions on a proposed fix for the problems posed by delayed census data, with a deadline for written briefs this Thursday.
The proposed fix, laid out in legislation quickly advanced by state lawmakers, would instruct the two commissions to use survey data and estimates to draw preliminary maps without any delay, even though the more precise decennial census data is delayed months this year due to the global pandemic coronavirus.
Because the legislation would alter the redistricting process, which is in the state constitution, lawmakers asked the Colorado Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue using an “interrogatory,” a rare legal maneuver for getting judicial review on proposed legislation.
The independent legislative redistricting commission hired their attorneys May 7. They hired Campbell Litigation, P.C.’s Richard Kaufman and Peters Schulte Odil & Wallshein LLC’s Timothy Odil.
The independent congressional redistricting commission authorized hiring their outside counsel May 10. They hired Achieve Legal Group, led by Jerome DeHerrera as their general counsel and Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP’s Fred Yarger to lead litigation.
The newly hired attorneys will need to advise the commissions, then draft legal briefs for the legislature’s interrogatories, based on the commissioners’ direction, and file them by noon on May 13.
The Colorado Supreme Court will then hear oral arguments on Monday May 17.
Until now, the input from the commissions on the proposed legislative fix to the census delays has been limited, because the commissions had legal advice only from a legislative staff attorney and nearly no way to formalize a position during the legislation’s quick passage.
“There were lots of emails back and forth, letting them know that we, the two commissions, are unhappy about how the process played out,” Jessika Shipley, the lead staff member for the commissions, said about the perception that the commissions were sidelined during the legislative process.
“Time is of the essence,” said congressional redistricting commissioner Bill Leone before his commission voted to hire their outside counsel on Monday. “There’s some urgency to act on this request today.”
The position that the commissions will take on the proposed change isn’t clear yet. During Monday’s meeting of the congressional redistricting commission, Commissioner Jason Kelly said he’s not yet supportive of the plan, without a specific plan to hold public meetings on maps drawn with the decennial census data, and not the preliminary survey and estimate data, as the legislature’s plan proposes. Other commissioners said they shared Kelly’s concerns.
Richard Kaufman, one of the attorneys hired by the legislative redistricting commission and who has decades of redistricting-specific legal experience in Colorado, said he will meet with his clients this week to discuss those matters, but that, “the commission will file a brief by noon on Thursday.”