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Supreme court appoints a special master to oversee redistricting

Having met a 2011 deadline for the redrawing of state House and Senate legislative maps for the Connecticut General Assembly, the legislature’s Reapportionment Committee remained mired in disagreement over U.S. Congressional redistricting at the end of the year, requiring intervention from the state Supreme Court and the hiring of a special master to oversee the process.On Dec. 30, the court named Columbia University law and political science professor Nathaniel Persily as special master of remapping for the state’s five Congressional districts. Persily came highly recommended from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office, which submitted a legal brief expressing support for the candidate, along with a recommendation that a minimum of changes be made to the current districts.Persily is the director of Columbia’s Center for Law and Politics and has been appointed to work on redistricting plans in Georgia, Maryland and New York and is currently working as a redistricting consultant in Puerto Rico. He teaches a course at Columbia called Redistricting and Gerrymandering.In his brief to the state Supreme Court, and over the objection of Republican leaders, Gov. Malloy expressed his support for Persily and made a series of recommendations, noting that the special master will have limited time to complete the task at hand and that discussion and debate should be kept to a minimum.“The state constitutional requirement that the court file its redistricting plan with the secretary of state by Feb. 15, 2012, means that the special master will have limited time following his or her appointment on Jan. 5, 2012, in which to gather information and assist the court,” the brief said. “Given the tight time frame and the fact that the Reapportionment Commission invited the public to participate in a series of public hearings around the state in July 2011, and has accepted commentary and prospective plans from interested persons, the special master should not hold additional hearings before beginning work on a plan.“Although the special master need only make minimal adjustments to draft a proposed redistricting map that complies with the requirement of numerical equality, it is nonetheless important that he or she have the necessary information to ensure continued compliance with the minority representation requirements of the Voting Rights Act and traditional redistricting principles,” the brief added.Among the disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on the Reapportionment Commission were plans for the towns of Bridgeport and New Britain. Republicans sought to move Bridgeport from the 4th district to the 3rd, along with moving New Britain from the 5th district to the 1st.Despite the fact that the ommission could not come to an agreement, Gov. Malloy suggested that most of the work has already been done. “Because the existing districts are only very slightly out of compliance with constitutional requirements, reflect a political compromise to which the 2001 Reapportionment Commission unanimously agreed and have not experienced significant shifts in their minority populations, it is not necessary for the special master to start from scratch. Indeed, such an approach would needlessly disrupt settled expectations and upend a districting plan that was carefully and successfully negotiated through the legislative process. Given the minimal populations shifts since the last redistricting, any proposed significant alteration to the existing districts should overcome a heavy burden demonstrating why such changes are necessary.”House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (R-Norwalk) objected to the governor’s filing of a brief in the redistricting matter, saying in a statement that the governor “has no existing role to play under the State Constitution... I think his intervention now smacks of undue influence with the Supreme Court.”The governor’s office responded by noting that state law allows for any registered voter to file a brief in the matter and that Malloy would not be withdrawing from the case.

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