JUNEAU -- The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday gave its approval to Alaska's new redistricting plan, clearing the way for the map to be used in this year's elections.
The decision came in the midst of a federal lawsuit filed to keep state election officials from implementing the plan until the Justice Department weighed in -- and a day before a scheduled hearing on the matter before a three-judge panel.
The judges dismissed the case late Wednesday afternoon. Attorneys for the plaintiffs had requested the move, saying that after the Justice Department's decision, the plaintiffs "are accordingly satisfied that the process has now completed as it was meant to under the statute."
Federal attorneys had also filed a "statement of interest" in the case Wednesday, asking that the lawsuit -- and the state's response, which raised a constitutional question about the federal government's involvement in approving election changes in Alaska -- be dismissed.
Last month, in a split decision, the Alaska Supreme Court approved the use of the redistricting plan for the 2012 elections, but the Justice Department's approval also was needed. Alaska is one of the states required to submit redistricting plans or proposed election changes to the Justice Department for review, to ensure the plans aren't discriminatory.
In a letter to an Alaska Redistricting Board attorney, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said Wednesday's decision does not bar subsequent litigation to prevent the enforcement of the redistricting plan's changes.
"This is a major, major milestone for the (redistricting) board, given there are no roadblocks left for implementation of the plan for the 2012 elections," said the board's executive director, Taylor Bickford.
Alaska's primary is scheduled for Aug. 28.
Still unsettled is what plan will be used for future election cycles. Bickford said the board will be looking to the Supreme Court for what happens next.
By BECKY BOHRER