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Fairbanks judge blesses redistricting plan, rejecting challenges

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS — Alaska Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy today approved the Alaska Redistricting Board plan to draw new lines for election districts, rejecting a host of challenges that the Republican-dominated board had violated the Alaska Constitution.

“The court accepts the 2013 proclamation plan,” McConahy wrote, concluding that the board had complied with a ruling last December from the Alaska Supreme Court.

He supported five requests for summary judgments from the redistricting board and rejected requests by the Alaska Democratic Party and the other challengers who took issue with the district lines approved during the summer, referred to collectively as the Riley plaintiffs.

The board adopted the latest version of the redistricting plan on July 14. The Fairbanks districts and how they were paired to create Senate districts were among the many challenges. One of the assertions was that the board did not like the two Fairbanks men pushing the case.

“The parties make accusations about a ‘perceived political advantage’ depending on how these Fairbanks districts are paired but not one party has identified such a concern with any specificity. The partisan advantage remains vague and undefined,” McConahy wrote.

“The court also notes that there is no evidence to support a finding that the settlement offer was rejected because the board does not like the Riley plaintiffs and/or their counsel.”

Motions for reconsideration of the decision are due by Nov. 26. The 2014 election is the first using the districts approved in July.

“The court has reviewed the proposed redistricting plan under the modern equivalent of Emerson’s memorandum of the law. The Alaska Supreme Court will do the same. But the character of Alaska voters will ultimately be the force of the law as they give it life by their election decisions,” McConahy wrote.

That was an apparent reference to an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson in which he said that the “law is only a memorandum.”

“We esteem the statute and the constitution,” McConahy wrote earlier in the decision. “But the force of the law and such life as the law may have, is in the character of living men.”

He said this was the first redistricting plan dealt with by any sitting Alaska judge in which the preclearance requirement of the federal Voting Rights Act does not come into play because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“The decisions made here and on appeal will chart the political organization of Alaska for the duration of this census period.”

Contact Dermot Cole at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcole