Plaintiffs in Utah’s redistricting lawsuit argue the case over alleged gerrymandering qualifies for judicial review

The Legislature’s attorneys requested that a judge throw out the lawsuit in May.

Plaintiffs suing the Legislature and Utah officials over what they say is an illegal redistricting of Utah’s congressional boundaries have issued a response to a request that the lawsuit be dismissed. The plaintiffs — which include the League of Women Voters of Utah, Mormon Women for Ethical Government and several Salt Lake County residents — argue their legal action over alleged gerrymandering does qualify for judicial review and should not be dismissed.44

In May, attorneys for the Legislature argued that the power to redraw congressional boundaries in the state is constitutionally and solely given to the Legislature and that the judicial branch should not involve itself in deciding a political disagreement. They asked that the judge throw out the lawsuit.

However, the plaintiffs’ legal representation filed a memorandum Wednesday detailing why the case should be allowed to move forward. The plaintiffs contend that if redistricting is outside the scope of judicial review, it would leave Utahns and the court system “powerless” to check “anti-democratic practices.”

The memorandum argues that the judiciary is the only force capable of solving these types of problems, since gerrymandering often benefits the lawmakers who bring it about and allow them to hold onto political power.

While agreeing that certain issues “wholly” within the scope of other branches of government cannot be adjudicated by the courts, the plaintiffs argue that nowhere in Utah’s Constitution is redistricting authority “solely” or “exclusively” granted to the Legislature.

They point to the fact that the governor is empowered to veto redistricting laws, as well as other evidence, including a prior legal case, showing that redistricting power is not “wholly committed to the Legislature” and that the courts have previously ruled on the constitutionality of legislative maps.

“Rather, they [the evidence] establish that redistricting is a legislative function that, like all other lawmaking, is subject to gubernatorial veto, shared with Utah’s voters through their initiative power, and subject to judicial review,” they write.

The lawsuit, which was initially brought in March, alleges that congressional maps adopted by the Legislature — which split Salt Lake County and its base of Democratic voters into four districts — constitute an illegal gerrymander.

Along with the Legislature and the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson, Senate President Stuart Adams and Sen. Scott Sandall are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.