By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -A New Mexico judge on Friday rejected a Republican challenge to the state’s Democratic-drawn congressional lines, improving the odds Democrats will maintain their hold on all three of the state’s districts in next year’s election.
The state is one of several in which crucial legal battles over congressional redistricting are still raging two years after most states enacted new maps following the once-a-decade U.S. Census.
With Democrats only five seats short of recapturing a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the November 2024 election, the outcome of those cases could swing control of Congress.
In Friday’s decision, Ninth Judicial District Judge Fred Van Soelen found Democratic lawmakers intentionally split up the state’s conservative southeastern region to dilute Republican votes, turning the historically Republican 2nd District into a highly competitive seat.
But, he said, the Democratic plan did not quite rise to the level of an “egregious gerrymander” that would violate the state constitution. He noted the Democrat who flipped the 2nd District in 2022, Gabe Vasquez, won by less than 1%, undermining Republican claims the new map “entrenched” Democrats in power.
“Some degree of a partisan gerrymander is permissible,” Van Soelen said.
The Republican state party, which brought the lawsuit, said it would appeal the decision with the New Mexico Supreme Court.
“The legislature intended to and, in fact, did egregiously gerrymander the congressional maps,” said state Republican party chairman Steve Pearce in a statement.
Earlier this week, a federal court approved new congressional lines for Alabama after finding a Republican-created map illegally hurt Black voters. The new map is expected to give Democrats an additional seat in that state.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next week over whether South Carolina’s Republican-drawn congressional map unlawfully diluted the power of Black voters.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, David Gregorio and Chris Reese)