The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Friday that only minor changes are needed for the state’s Congressional district boundary lines.
The ruling was the final determination in a long-running battle between Republicans and Democrats over the district lines that are redrawn every 10 years with the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.
As the dispute reached complete deadlock late last year, the state hired a special master from Columbia University in New York City to resolve the issue. In a tight timeframe, the special master made a quick recommendation, and will now be paid $36,400.
“We’re pleased that the Supreme Court adopted the special master’s recommended plan,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat. “There was no need for a significant realignment of the districts.”
The state’s five Congressional districts will essentially remain the same – except for some minor tinkering of the boundary lines. This is a far cry from a Republican plan that would have moved Bridgeport out of the Fourth Congressional District, where it has been for decades. Republicans controlled the Fairfield County district for decades, dating back to the days of Lowell P. Weicker of Greenwich and Stewart McKinney of Fairfield. The seat was won in 1987 by Christopher Shays of Stamford, who later moved to Bridgeport. In the Democratic landslide of 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama won big in Bridgeport, and Shays lost the district to Democrat Jim Himes of Greenwich.
The Republicans would have enacted far more drastic changes than the Democrats – and both the special master and the state Supreme Court agreed with the Democrats.
The Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender reported previously:
A “special master” appointed by the state Supreme Court took only a few days to do something lawmakers couldn’t do in a few months: redraw Connecticut’s Congressional districts to align with the 2010 census.
House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk said that Democrats got their way in the draft report issued by the court-appointed “special master” — Columbia University Law School professor and election expert Nathaniel Persily. That’s because Persily did not adopt Republicans’ chief recommendation — which was that traditionally Democratic New Britain should be moved out of the 5th Congressional District and into the Hartford-area 1st District.
And, Cafero said, Persily was given little choice in the matter. He said the Supreme Court tied Persily’s hands by issuing formal instructions that he make only the minimum changes in the map necessary to balance the populations of the five districts.
In effect, said Cafero, the court engaged in a “charade” by bringing in the high-priced legal expert to recommend an overly simplified solution to the redistricting impasse with which Republicans and Democrats on the bipartisan Redistricting Commission ended 2011. The same report could have been done “by a clerk with a calculator,” he said.
The court was facing a deadline on the final ruling on redistricting by Feb. 15.
The 5th District was the focus of both major parties in the redistricting controversy because the congressional seat is opening up in this year’s election, as the incumbent — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy — is running for the U.S. Senate.
The district might have been more winnable for a Republican this year if New Britain, which leans Democratic, were thrown in with the heavily Democratic 1st District. The GOP would lose nothing by that move, because the 1st District is already widely considered to be a safe seat for the longtime Democrat incumbent there, John Larson.
When Persily held a public hearing Monday in Hartford, Republicans argued that the 5th District is “bizarrely shaped” because of redistricting decisions made 10 years ago by both Democrats and Republicans to accommodate two congressional incumbents at the time.
Those two incumbents — 5th District Rep. Jim Maloney of Danbury, a Democrat, and then-6th District Rep. Nancy Johnson of New Britain, a Republican — were pitted against each other in the 2002 election because the 2000 census resulted in Connecticut’s loss of one of its six congressional districts. Thus, the two incumbents had to compete for a newly redrawn 5th District in 2002.
When the 5th District was redrawn by the 2001 redistricting panel, its bipartisan members agreed to keep things fair by included both incumbents’ hometowns in it: Maloney’s home of Danbury at its extreme western end and Johnson’s home of New Britain to the far east. Johnson won the 5th District seat in that 2002 contest, but later lost it to Murphy.
The lingering result was the district’s present, oddly elongated shape, which Cafero said should be scrapped now that Maloney and Johnson are gone. But now, he said, “it will be perpetuated for another 10 years.”
Cafero said that Persily was only following the Supreme Court’s instructions for minimal changes. The Republican leader compared the court’s instructions to a judge in a criminal trial instructing a jury to find a defendant guilty — and then telling jurors that the only question is whether the jail sentence would be 10 years, or nine years and eight months.