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Idaho Supreme Court denies challenges to legislative voting maps

Exterior shot of Idaho Supreme Court sign in front of the court's building

The Idaho Supreme Court Thursday unanimously denied a combined legal challenge to the state’s new legislative district voting maps that were redrawn following the 2020 census.

The lawsuits, combined into a single challenge, came from individual citizens, the Coeur D’Alene and Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and Ada and Canyon counties. Petitioners claimed the new map (L03) split more counties than necessary (eight) to reach the goal of 35 equally populated voting districts.

Lawsuits brought by the tribes and counties specifically contended the maps violated Idaho law by splitting communities of interest in some areas and splitting urban and rural voters in others.

“Due to Idaho’s unique geography and the supremacy of federal law, there is unavoidable tension between the Idaho Constitution’s restraint against splitting counties and the Federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause,” wrote Justice John R. Stegner for the court. “Navigating this tension is no easy feat.”

The court heard arguments last week and ruled Thursday lawyers arguing against the maps failed to prove that the commission for reapportionment “unreasonably determined” that eight county splits were needed to meet standards set by the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling noted that many of the maps challengers wanted considered were unlikely to be constitutional, which the commission's report had also noted.

Specific to the complaint from the two tribes, the court wrote that community interests did not outweigh county interests within the redistricting process outlined in state law. Changing that priority would require legislation.

In denying the challenge to the maps, the court acknowledged the unique environment the commission was forced to work in last year, with delayed census results pushing the redistricting process very close to an election deadline.

The ruling awarded costs to the state. A second lawsuit challenging the commission's congressional maps remains pending.

This story has been updated.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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