Utah Supreme Courts rules on redistricting commission

By Kathy Woods | Jul 31, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) ' The Utah Supreme Court says $1 million is what is required to establish an independent redistricting commission.

The ballot initiative effort is sponsored by the grassroots Fair Boundaries Coalition, which would like to create an advisory panel to reshape Utah's 29 Senate and 75 House districts and the state's congressional slots.

Some say letting the Legislature assign districts is like giving officials an opportunity to choose their voters. But the task is assigned to them through the state's Constitution.

"We reject the petitioners' arguments," the state's high court ruled. "We do not read the plain language of the initiative to prohibit the Legislature from undertaking separate research and analysis of redistricting issues at any time."

To do so would require a constitutional amendment this, cannot be achieved through a ballot initiative, the justices said.
The collation attorney, Lisa Watts Baskin, had argued the $1 million estimate was unreasonable.

Proponents for the initiative now must go out and gather 95,000 signatures from registered voters by April 15 to get it back on the ballot.

House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said he believes that lawmakers are capable of handling this task and opposes the initiative.

"I'm not opposed to the help when it comes to redistricting, but this particular model they've set up has terrible language that will open the door for legal challenges." Clark was quoted as saying.

The initiative would, among other things, establish an 11-member commission to redraw boundaries, allow no more than four members from the same political party, keep communities intact and exclude people with conflicts of interest from the redistricting process.

Coalition board member Nikki Norton said, "The case was useful, because it established that the top-end expense would be about $1million if the Legislature ignores the will of the people and decides to duplicate the process."

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