State Watch

Washington state Supreme Court approves new congressional maps

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The Washington state Supreme Court on Friday gave final approval to new congressional district map lines two weeks after the panel formed to craft those lines narrowly missed a critical deadline.

The state redistricting commission failed to reach agreement on the lines that would govern congressional district boundaries for the next decade after hours of negotiation and behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the run-up to a midnight deadline. 

State law gives authority to the state Supreme Court to sort out the redistricting process if the commission fails to agree to a plan. 

But the following morning, the commission produced a bipartisan set of maps agreed to by all four voting commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans. The commission submitted those maps to the Supreme Court, while acknowledging they had surrendered their authority by missing the deadline.

In a statement Friday morning, the Supreme Court said it would accept the commission’s late maps rather than draw its own borders. The order, signed by all nine justices, says the redistricting commission’s independent chairwoman swore that commissioners had voted to approve the formal redistricting plan just eight seconds after the midnight deadline.

“[W]e conclude it is not necessary for the court to assume responsibility for adoption of redistricting maps under the present circumstances,” the justices wrote. They said judicial involvement, which would take months, would impede rather than advance adoption of new district lines.

The new map lines are unlikely to lead to substantial changes to Washington’s ten-member congressional delegation: Three districts centered in and north of Seattle are heavily Democratic; three districts that border Oregon and Idaho are heavily Republican; and three more districts, stretching west of the Cascades from the Canadian border to the Olympic Peninsula, lean toward Democrats.

The remaining district, Washington’s 8th, is among the more competitive contests in the nation. Long anchored in eastern King County, once a conservative bastion that stood against liberal Seattle, ancestral versions of the district had been held by the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R) and former Rep. Dave Reichert (R).

But Reichert retired in 2018, and he was replaced by Rep. Kim Schrier (D), the first Democrat to represent eastern King County since the 1970s. 

Population has grown faster on the western side of the Cascades than on the eastern side, meaning that Reichert’s old seat and Schrier’s current seat had to grow east of the Cascades to gobble up enough population. 

The new version of the district keeps those eastern counties and adds rural areas on the west side of the mountains currently represented by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D), whose seat becomes much safer for Democrats under the new plan.

Schrier won election in 2018 by about 5 percentage points. She won reelection in 2020 by just 3.5 points, against a virtually unknown Republican opponent, a sign that she would likely be vulnerable to a future challenge.

Republicans are mounting that challenge this year. Reagan Dunn (R), a longtime member of the King County Council, said last week he would run to reclaim the seat once held by his late mother. He will face Jesse Jensen (R), the Republican who came surprisingly close to beating Schrier in 2020, in what is likely to be a marquee match-up in the battle for control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.

Tags Dave Reichert Kim Schrier Redistricting Redistricting commission Suzan DelBene Washington

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