State Supreme Court gets congressional redistricting case

Friday, June 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state Supreme Court took up the politically thorny issue of congressional redistricting Thursday as Democratic leaders urged justices to nullify a plan they said was drawn to protect Republican incumbents.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Oklahoma Republican Party urged the state's high court to deny Democratic requests to reopen the case and sustain a congressional redistricting plan imposed by state District Judge Vicki Robertson on May 28.

``The only way they can win this case is to have you retry this case,'' said attorney Tom Braden.

Justices did not indicate when they will hand down a decision. But attorneys involved in the case said they expect a ruling within a week.

Filing for this fall's congressional elections is scheduled July 8-10, and county election boards are already implementing details of the court-approved redistricting plan. Congressional primary elections are scheduled Aug. 27.

``We are aware of the time limitations,'' Chief Justice Rudolph Hargrave said before the court took the case under advisement.

Attorneys for Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor and House Speaker Larry Adair said the plan imposed by Robertson improperly used political considerations when deciding how to redraw Oklahoma's congressional districts.

The plan, which was endorsed by the state's four incumbent GOP congressmen, was drawn for GOP Gov. Frank Keating.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six U.S. House districts this year because the state's population did not grow as fast as other states during the past decade.

``Unfortunately, this case comes to you today as a result of the most cynical congressional redistricting scheme in the history of this state,'' said attorney Lee Slater, who represented Taylor, D-Claremore.

Slater said Robertson, a Republican appointed to the bench by Keating, elevated incumbent protection above other redistricting principles, including pairing communities of interest in the same district and creating compact districts.

``What the trial court did was flip the process on its head,'' said Tom Perrelli, who represented Adair, D-Stilwell. ``The trial court started with politics.''

Braden said it was proper for Robertson to consider incumbent protection when deciding which of several proposed redistricting plans to implement, including separate plans passed by the House and Senate.

``What they want you to do is throw members of Congress out with the stroke of a pen,'' Braden said.

Slater and Perrelli also argued that state courts have no authority to redraw congressional districts because redistricting is the exclusive responsibility of the Legislature.

``The Oklahoma Legislature has not delegated that power,'' Slater said. The Legislature could not agree on a single redistricting plan before it adjourned on May 24.

Slater said only a three-judge federal panel formed to preside over a federal redistricting lawsuit has the authority to decide the issue. The panel has stayed the lawsuit pending resolution of the state case.