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Citizens of Utah sue state legislature over gerrymandered maps

Utah Capitol

A bipartisan mix of voters and civic organizations filed a lawsuit against the Utah legislature over the new congressional maps that were drawn last November.

In 2018 Utah voters passed Proposition 4 - a ballot initiative that approved an independent commission to ensure that fair boundaries were drawn during the redistricting process. This past November, the state legislature overruled the commission’s work on maps and drew its own set of legislative and congressional district boundaries.

Two non-partisan voting rights groups, Utah League of Women Voters and Mormon Women for Ethical Government, along with seven additional independent plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against the legislature this month alleging the congressional boundaries that were drawn violate the constitutional rights of Utahns.

Eleanor Sundwall, a plaintiff named in the lawsuit and a member of Utah’s League of Women Voters, says when the legislature drew these maps it overturned the will of the people.

“The people of Utah spoke saying that they wanted an independent redistricting commission to draw fair maps. And when our legislature overturned the maps presented by our commission. That was an outrage to me it felt personal. I know it's a governmental action, but it affects my personal life. And I have two children. And I want them to grow up in a state that has a fair government that represents them.”

David Reymann, an attorney with the law firm Parr Brown, is representing the plaintiffs. He says they have two goals.

“One is for the court to declare that the extreme partisan gerrymander that the legislature enacted be struck down as unconstitutional, and that new maps be drawn that comply with Utah's constitution. And the second thing, is that the court reinstate the independent redistricting commission that the voters enacted with Proposition four.”

Sundwall, who lives in a district she says used to be competitive, now feels her vote doesn’t matter based on the new maps.

The Supreme Court ruled that gerrymandering is not a matter for the federal government. It’s up to state courts to handle lawsuits. Currently there are several blue states as well as red states hearing cases similar to Utah’s.

“And those challenges are working their way through the courts, just like these are but I think that there is a recognition of the basic principle which shouldn't be controversial that legislators don't have unlimited power when it comes to drawing maps, they've got to comply with their state constitutions, there are limits on what they can do. And that is the argument that we'll be making here.”

Reymann says there’s no way for meaningful change to happen before this election cycle but hopes that the courts will hear their case and overturn the Congressional maps by 2024.

“And so we've tried to take a long view that we are going to take our time, because we think that the evidence that will we will be able to present to the court will be incredibly compelling. We wanted to make sure that there's time for the issues to be fully vetted by the court. And hopefully, by the next election cycle, this will be something that has been fixed.”

The law firms representing the plaintiffs have partnered with the Campaign Legal Center, a firm out of D.C. focusing solely on election issues, have not asked for a jury trial. They will appear before a judge.