Ind. Supreme Court hears Indy redistricting arguments

(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)
(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The fight over how Indianapolis draws new voting district boundaries is now in the hands of the Indiana Supreme Court. The Court’s opinion could play a critical role in next year’s City-County Council election.

Justices heard arguments Thursday surrounding a redistricting map drawn in 2011 by what was at the time a Republican majority in the Indianapolis City County Council. That map was signed into law by Mayor Greg Ballard on January 1, 2012.

But, Council Democrats, who took over the majority on January 1, 2012, say the map was drawn earlier than allowed by state law in order to benefit the GOP.

The redistricting map was rejected by a judicial panel last year, which sided with Democrats who cited a state law stating the council boundaries must be redrawn by the end of the second year after a census is conducted. In this case, that would put make the required year 2012, since the census was conducted in 2010.

State lawmakers have since re-worded that statute to clearly state that the boundaries must be drawn during the second year following a census.

But, that wording wasn’t present when the latest maps were drawn.

Despite that, the judicial panel issued its own new set of district boundary lines in August.

Ballard disagreed with the panel’s assessment and petitioned the state Supreme Court to take up the case.

On Thursday, the two sides argued their points before the high Court.

“The council was required to perform that mandatory division during calendar year 2012,” argued William Groth, representing Council President Maggie Lewis (D). “This was a very cleverly orchestrated effort to get the ordinance to the Mayor on New Year’s Day when he had to make a decision within 10 days. That was the 10th day. But, the product–the ordinance itself–was the product of a lame duck council, and all of the process took place outside the time frame of the parameters the legislature designated that this take place.”

“As a matter of law, the redistricting did occur in 2012 because it became law in 2012,” responded Ballard’s attorney David Brooks. “And, in [Indiana Code] 36-3-4-14, it tells you as a matter of law that an ordinance is considered adopted when it is signed into law by the mayor.”

The question now for Justices is deciding when the new maps were truly re-drawn.

“The only real argument today is when was that law made,” Justice Mark Massa said. “Your argument is that the law was made in 2011 when the statute says it has to be made in 2012. Their argument is that the law was made in 2012 because that’s when the Mayor signed it.”

“This activity, this division, is supposed to happen during 2012. It seems to me that part of it happened during 2011 and part of it happened during 2012,” responded Justice Robert Rucker.

“The re-districting statute requires the division to be enacted during the second year, and [it says] ‘may be made at any time,” argued Chief Justice Brent Dickson. “It’s permissive, but it’s equal. It’s equivalent. The statute seems to read that this decision may be made at any time.”

The new maps could play a critical role in next year’s City-County Council election, as each political party’s version could pool additional votes for chosen candidates.

The court is expected to issue its opinion within the next few months.

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