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Utah Legislature loses motion to put gerrymandering lawsuit on hold

The Utah State Capitol is shown during the first day of the Utah Legislature 2022 general session on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer
Utah legislature loses motion to put gerrymandering lawsuit on hold. Plaintiffs will have their day in court Wednesday.

A lawsuit charging the Utah legislature with unfairly redistricting voter maps is headed to Third District Court Wednesday. On Tuesday, the court denied the state’s request to put the case on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court decides similar cases in other states.

In 2018 Utah voters passed Proposition 4 - a ballot initiative creating an independent commission to oversee voter maps during the redistricting process. Last November, the state legislature overruled the commission’s work 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 other plaintiffs, sued the legislature in March, alleging the Legislature’s maps violate Utahns’ constitutional rights.

Katie Wright is the executive director of Better Boundaries, a non-partisan coalition of community leaders and redistricting advocates. She says her organization had an early win in the case.

“The defendants in the case the state legislature, had filed a motion to stay the case, which essentially would put it on hold until the US Supreme Court ruled on a redistricting case out of North Carolina, called Moore versus Harper," Wright said. "Yesterday, Judge Gibson in the Third District Court in Utah denied that motion to stay. So tomorrow, the plaintiffs will have their day in court. And they will be arguing the Legislature's other motion, which was a motion to dismiss the case.”

Wright says at its core the lawsuit is about constitutional protections. She’s hopeful Third District Court Judge Dianna Gibson, who will hear the case, agrees.

“And the Utah State Constitution has explicit protection for people's right to vote, and not be discriminated against," she said. "And all of those are really important to the case at hand. And so we're optimistic that the judge will rule in favor of the plaintiffs. And, and that ultimately Utahns will have fair maps, so that they can hold elected officials accountable.”

Wright says other states have led the way for Utahns to take up the fight.

“And we've seen that in other states, such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, in the past and New York recently, as well," she said. "So state courts have the power and ability to defend the Constitution and give people their full right to vote. And we've seen in other states where judges have, you know, annulled unfair partisan gerrymandered maps.”

The hearing will begin at 10 am and is fully remote. To listen join via webex at https://utcourts.webex.com/meet/dgibson.