Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews has begun examining a new map of state Senate districts in Anchorage, one month after he ordered them to be redrawn.
The districts were drawn by Alaska’s five-member state redistricting board. The board’s first attempt was ruled “an unconstitutional political gerrymander” by the Alaska Supreme Court following a legal challenge by residents of East Anchorage.
Those residents successfully argued that the board violated the Alaska Constitution by drawing a Senate district that linked south Eagle River and south Muldoon.
The new map links south Eagle River with South Anchorage and Girdwood, and the East Anchorage residents who challenged the first map are now challenging the second map, saying it illegally seeks to extend Eagle River’s representation in the Senate.
Both the first map and the second map were adopted with the support of the board’s three Republican members: Budd Simpson and Bethany Marcum, appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and board chairman John Binkley, appointed by former Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.
Voting against both maps were board members Melanie Bahnke, appointed by former Chief Justice Joel Bolger, and Nicole Borromeo, appointed by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
Attorney Holly Wells, representing the East Anchorage residents, said during a hearing Tuesday that the only legal way to interpret Matthews’ order is to link Eagle River’s two House districts in the same Senate district.
Matt Singer, an attorney representing the redistricting board, said Matthews’ order doesn’t specifically require it.
“Somebody coined the phrase, ‘This is redistricting 2.0,’” Matthews said during Tuesday’s hearing.
He said he would consider their arguments and render a decision soon, likely later this week.
A group of Girdwood residents is also challenging the legality of the new Senate map. That challenge would not be taken up unless Matthews rules against the East Anchorage plaintiffs.
If that happens, Matthews said he plans to hold a hearing late Thursday, with courtroom arguments May 9 and a ruling “about May 15″ to consider the Girdwood challenge and allow time for a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court before the June 1 filing deadline.