Idaho Supreme Court

Idaho’s Native American tribes took center stage as the Idaho Supreme Court on Friday heard arguments in four legal challenges of the state’s new legislative redistricting plan.

Attorneys for the chairs of the Coeur d’Alene and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the state, Ada and Canyon counties and former state Sen. Branden Durst gave the justices their take on the complex and interwoven legal considerations in drawing district lines in Idaho, from the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, to the Idaho Constitution’s strictures against dividing counties, to communities of interest and what constitutes evidence of discrimination.

“The Native American tribes, the Sho-Bans and the Coeur d’Alenes, are extraordinary communities of interest, much more so, I would submit, than cities or towns,” attorney Deborah Ferguson told the court. “They have their separate tribal sovereign nations with a distinct culture, and they’re woven together by history, spiritual ties, ancestral bonds, and for thousands of years a sense of place on the earth.”

She argued that the state’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission “did nothing to preserve them as communities of interest as the Idaho law requires. Instead, I would submit it did the opposite, by scattering them across multiple districts and diluting their voter strength.”

A decade ago, the previous Idaho redistricting commission drew a legislative map aimed at keeping Idaho’s tribal reservations together in districts, but the court overturned it, saying it divided too many Idaho counties. While Idaho state law requires preserving communities of interest, the state Constitution sets the county-preservation standard above that, the court held.

This time around, the new redistricting plan – which divides eight Idaho counties, including Ada and Canyon – is being challenged by the tribes for how their reservations were treated; by Ada and Canyon counties for the way parts of each were broken off into districts that also include parts of neighboring counties; by Durst, who wants the court to change its definition of county splits from previous rulings and adopt a plan he submitted; and by Pocatello resident Spencer Stucki, who objects to eastern Idaho district lines and favors dividing more counties.

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Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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