New Mexico Supreme Court weighs GOP challenge to congressional map, swing district boundaries

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Republican Party on Monday urged the New Mexico Supreme Court to overturn a congressional map that divided a politically conservative oil-producing region into multiple districts while reshaping a swing district along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday without ruling on Democratic state lawmakers’ congressional map. Democrats say a congressional district in southern New Mexico remains competitive even after the ouster of a Republican incumbent in last year’s elections.

The Supreme Court ruling could affect which party represents the state’s Second Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez is seeking a second term.

The district is one of about a dozen in the national spotlight as Republicans campaign to maintain their slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024. Courts in Alabama and Florida recently ruled that Republican-led legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of black residents. Legal challenges against congressional districts are also underway in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

A New Mexico district judge ruled in October that Democratic state lawmakers significantly diluted the votes of their political opponents, but that the changes were not “blatant” gerrymandering.

The Republican Party appealed that ruling, saying its substantial political minority in New Mexico will likely be barred from representation in Congress for the entire decade before the maps are redrawn. As evidence, the Republican Party cited the 2022 defeat of incumbent Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell against a former Las Cruces city councilwoman.

“Herrell was clearly an incumbent who had been on the ballot multiple times with a very high ID and she lost at the end of the day,” Harrison told the justices Monday. “So a very Republican favorable year, with a sitting president.”

The justices expressed skepticism, noting that Herrell lost in 2022 by a narrow margin of 0.7% and also previously lost an open race for the seat in 2018 before the district was redistricted — indications that the district was competitive and that it was possible also remains.

“The actual election results, that’s what I have a problem with,” Judge Briana Zamora said.

Sara Sanchez, who represents Democratic legislative leaders, said the evidence in the case does not support allegations of a blatant gerrymander that would entrench one party in power or deprive voters of meaningful participation.

“Each map will favor one party over another in a given district,” she said. “But vote dilution only becomes a constitutional harm when it reaches the level where that entrenchment can be achieved, and there was simply no evidence of that here.”

Democrats hold every statewide elected office in New Mexico, along with the three congressional seats and two Senate seats.