Shoreview lawmaker wants judges to take over redistricting


Jason Isaacson

A Shoreview legislator has introduced a bill that would take redistricting out of the hands of the people who represent those districts.

And he wants to enshrine that change in the Minnesota Constitution.

“Things that affect our own self-interest shouldn’t be decided by us,” said state Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview. “That’s just common sense, right?”

Isaacson represents District 42, which includes Mounds View, Arden Hills, Shoreview and Vadnais Heights. His bill, Senate File 2233, is among numerous redistricting measures introduced this legislative session.

Redistricting in Minnesota happens every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The state’s constitution puts this power into the hands of the Legislature, which has made the process prone to political gamesmanship. Parties fight to create districts that advantage themselves, and party control in the Legislature could determine who wins out.

A report in a 2013 edition of the William Mitchell Law Review characterized the process as a political duel. In recent redistricting efforts, Minnesota courts have had to settle things. 

“And while it is true that the state legislature has the first responsibility for redistricting, Minnesota’s history has demonstrated that the judiciary plays an active role in the redistricting process,” states the report, written by Brandon Boese. “The Minnesota legislature has not enacted its own plan since 1966, and even that plan could not escape its fair share of judicial involvement.”

The phenomenon is hardly limited to Minnesota politics. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a gerrymandering case in March. 

 

Redistricting commission

Isaacson’s bill suggests that a panel of five judges should handle redistricting in the state. Majority and minority party leaders in the House and Senate would each appoint a judge. Those four judges would then appoint a fifth member, according to his bill.

Isaacson said the bill could be changed to include more citizen input.

“You have to create a vetting process for that, and it hasn’t been determined yet,” he said.

It could be a steep climb to get it passed. The bill is among multiple others that look to reform the redistricting process. Some don’t require constitutional amendments. Others don’t rely on judges to take on the process. There are multitudes of theories about how redistricting could go.

And when lawmakers in St. Paul are working to hammer out a budget with a divided Legislature, Isaacson said passage might not be in the cards this session.

“Just having the discussion is super important,” he said.

Isaacson’s bill has been referred to a Senate committee. It has a House companion that’s sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth. 

 

–Matt Hudson can be reached at mhudson@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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