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After hearing final arguments, Minnesota judges start work of redrawing state's political maps

Judges on the panel said they respected the Legislature's authority to craft new political districts but stood ready to step in if partisan disagreements got in the way.

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Judge Jodi L. Williamson, left, listens as presiding Judge Louise D. Bjorkman talks to the audience near the end of the hearing Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — A Minnesota court panel on Tuesday, Jan. 4, heard oral arguments from political parties, voting rights groups and advocates for boosting the voices of people of color ahead of a deadline next month to redraw the state's voting districts.

The changes could impact Minnesotans' political representation at the state Capitol and in Congress and impact voting districts for a decade. It was the last chance for the groups to weigh in on what Minnesota's voting districts should look like before the group of judges goes to the drawing board.

And their requests to the panel varied significantly, with some urging the judges to stay close to the status quo, while others said they should shift congressional and state legislative boundaries to match the changes tracked in "human geography."

For decades, the task of redrawing the state's political maps has fallen to a judicial panel because lawmakers have been unable to agree on legislative districts that satisfy both Democrats and Republicans. The judicial panel took testimony from stakeholders around the state last fall in addition to hearing the arguments from the groups that submitted new maps.

“We know that the task of redistricting lies with our Legislature and not a group of judges,” Judicial Branch Special Redistricting Panel Presiding Judge Louise D. Bjorkman told the group. But in the event lawmakers couldn't meet their Feb. 15 deadline to put forward new maps, she said the panel would be ready to step in and redraw the boundaries.

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Discussions around redistricting plans have been postponed due to the delayed rollout of the 2020 U.S. Census data and on the current timeline, lawmakers would have just two weeks from the start of the 2022 legislative session to reach a deal on the political maps.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders in the Minnesota House of Representatives on Tuesday urged Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate to come to the table to strike a deal on the new voting maps. House lawmakers put up proposals for new districts in hearings late last year but Senate lawmakers have yet to publish their plans.

House leaders said lawmakers have a better sense of their communities and should reach an agreement as a Legislature for the first time in 50 years to avoid significant turnover.

“It’s my expectation that the House and Senate will collaborate in the legislative process to draw up-to-date and fair maps for the people of Minnesota,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a news release. "The House stands ready to complete this work, and we await action from the Senate.”

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, chairs the Senate's redistricting committee and in a statement on Tuesday said that the group was still moving forward with its work.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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