Colorado Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

In re Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly, 828 P.2d 185 (Colo. 1992)

In a constitutionally mandated original proceeding, the Colorado Supreme Court held that House and Senate plans drawn by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission were valid, with two exceptions: (1) the division of Pitkin County and the City of Aspen; and (2) the inadvertent split of a community of interest in the community of Perry Park in Douglas County.

The Supreme Court specifically upheld the plan for House District 60 in the San Luis Valley in south central Colorado against a challenge based on § 2 of the Voting Rights Act filed by Jennie Sanchez and others (see Sanchez v. State of Colorado, infra). The Court stated that if the Commission made a good faith effort to resolve disputed facts concerning vote dilution and applied the correct legal standard, the Court would not disturb its finding. The Court noted that the objectors' plan for the San Luis Valley ignored natural boundaries and split seven counties, while the Commission's plan split only one county and took into account the wishes of San Luis Valley residents to preserve the Valley intact. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the objectors had not made a showing that would support rejection of the Commission plan.

The Supreme Court also upheld the Commission plan against a § 2 challenge to House districts in northeast Denver filed by Blacks for Fair Reapportionment and against challenges based on state constitutional criteria that involved seven other areas.

In re Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly, 828 P.2d 213 (Colo. 1992)

The Colorado Supreme Court approved the Commission's revised plan which cured the inadvertent split of a community of interest in Douglas County and which kept the City of Aspen whole, even though it continued to split Pitkin County. On remand, the Commission had considered eight alternative plans for Pitkin County, thus providing a sufficient basis for the Court to review and understand the need for the county split.

Martinez v. Romer, Civ. Nos. 91-C-1972, 91-C-2129, and 91-C-2162 (D. Colo.) (no published opinion)

After a congressional redistricting plan was enacted and vetoed at a special session in the fall of 1991, plaintiffs filed suit against the Governor and the General Assembly. The General Assembly moved to dismiss on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the General Assembly and had no power to direct the General Assembly to act. After a second plan was enacted and vetoed during the 1992 regular session, the court appointed a special master and a third plan was enacted and signed. The court dismissed the actions without prejudice, and no ruling was ever made on the General Assembly's jurisdictional issues.

Sanchez v. State of Colorado, 861 F. Supp. 1516 (D. Colo. 1994) (no violation of VRA § 2); reversed 97 F.3d 1303 (10th Cir. 1996); cert. denied sub nom. Colorado v. Sanchez, 117 S. Ct. 1820 (1997).

Plaintiffs were Hispanic residents of the San Luis Valley in south central Colorado who had previously filed an unsuccessful challenge to House District 60 with the Colorado Supreme Court (see In re Reapportionment of the Colorado General Assembly, supra). The federal district court held that plaintiffs failed to establish their § 2 VRA claim because: (1) their suggested district did not satisfy compactness requirements; (2) the minority group was not politically cohesive; (3) other reasons besides race may explain voting behavior; and (4) the totality of the circumstances did not establish vote dilution.

The Tenth Circuit reversed. While not quarreling with any of the district court's findings of fact on compactness, the Tenth Circuit held that the plaintiffs' proposed district demonstrated the possibility of a remedy. The Tenth Circuit also held that the evidence showed Hispanic political cohesiveness and Anglo bloc voting. It concluded that the district court erred in considering factors other than race to explain voting behavior. Finally, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court's erroneous view of racial polarization and political cohesiveness prejudiced its analysis of the totality of the circumstances, and submerged critical facts into less relevant factors. The matter was remanded to the state for implementation of a remedial plan.

After the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, an interim committee considered remedial plans during the 1997 interim. The committee's recommendation, with minor changes, was adopted in bill form during the 1998 session and was signed by the Governor. House District 60 in the new plan splits four counties and includes 50.73 percent Hispanic voting age population. Plaintiffs and the State jointly asked the district court to approve the plan, and the court's order was issued March 12, 1998.

State Contact

Rebecca C. Lennahan
Deputy Director
Legislative Legal Services
State Capitol, Room 091
Denver, CO 80203-1782
303/866-2045 voice
303/866-5147 fax