SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico state judge ruled against a Republican Party challenge of new congressional boundaries approved by Democrats that divvied up a politically conservative oil-producing region, in an order published Friday.
Judge Fred Van Soelen wrote that the redistricting plan enacted by Democratic state lawmakers in 2021 succeeded in substantially diluting votes of their political opponents, but that the congressional redistricting changes fell short of “egregious” gerrymandering.
“Because ‘entrenchment’ is the touchstone of an egregious partisan gerrymander which the New Mexico Constitution prohibits, the court finds that the congressional redistricting map enacted under Senate Bill 1 does not violate the plaintiff’s equal protection rights,” the judge wrote.
The order can be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. A final decision will have a major influence on which party represents a congressional swing district along the U.S. border with Mexico where partisan control has flipped three times in three elections.
Under the current map, Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez in 2022 ousted a first-term Republican incumbent. But a competitive 0.7% margin of victory weighted against Republican accusations of political entrenchment by Democrats, who hold every statewide elected office in New Mexico and its three congressional seats.
New Mexico’s 2nd District is one of about a dozen that are in the spotlight nationally as Republicans campaign to hold onto their slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024.
At trial last week, the Republican Party pushed to present evidence of egregious gerrymandering, outlined in text messages from a top-ranked Democratic legislator, arguing that Democrats cut Republican lawmakers out of deliberations as they divvied up a conservative stronghold in southeastern New Mexico among three congressional districts that all favor Democrats.
An attorney for the Democratic-led Legislature argued that the 2nd District is still competitive and that Republicans can’t prove the maps intentionally entrench Democratic politicians.