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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Justices will assist if census data arrives late
DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court will preserve — as much as possible — the state’s redrawing of political boundaries if federal census data is not available in time to honor a constitutional deadline, the court announced Thursday.
The high court offered no details how it would handle the process, which will create new districts for the Iowa Legislature and for the state’s four U.S. House seats for the next 10 years.
States are preparing for redistricting, but the pandemic caused delays in the U.S. Census Bureau’s tally of population.
The bureau recently announced it will send census data to the states by Sept. 30.
But the Iowa Constitution says redistricting in Iowa must be completed by Sept. 15, and if the Iowa Legislature does not complete the process by that date, the Iowa Supreme Court assumes the responsibility.
The Iowa Supreme Court’s statement said if the census data is not available before the Sept. 15 deadline, the court would implement a redistricting process that would match as much as possible the procedure described in state law.
“If the (Iowa Legislature) is not able to meet the constitutional deadline, the (Iowa) Supreme Court tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework presently set forth in (state law) to proceed after September 15,” the statement said.
“Under such a process, the Supreme Court would cause the state to be apportioned into senatorial and representative districts to comply with the requirements of the constitution prior to December 31.”
The announcement said the court would have no further comment.
The announcement also said the court typically does not comment on matters in advance of their presentation to the court.
But justices made an exception in this case because of “considerable public concern surrounding the redistricting process” and because other states’ courts have issued orders related to redistricting.
Iowa’s redistricting process is widely hailed for its nonpartisan procedures. Maps are designed and proposed by the state’s nonpartisan legal and fiscal analysis agency, then approved by state lawmakers.
Partisan legislators become involved in drawing their own districts only if they vote to reject two sets of maps proposed by the nonpartisan agency.
Without federal census data, the redistricting process is stalled. Legislative leaders have been examining alternatives in case the data is not available before the constitutional deadline.
Iowa Sen. Jack Whitver, the leader of the majority Senate Republicans, had previously proposed suing the federal government for its most current census data.
Many Iowa Democrats have been sounding alarms that Republicans may use their majorities in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate and a Republican governor to push the redistricting process to that final step so they could draw boundaries that benefit their party.
“Today’s statement from the Iowa Supreme Court regarding their role in this year’s unique redistricting process underscores the importance of adhering to the Constitution and Iowa law as currently written,” Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls, leader of the minority Senate Democrats, said in a statement.
“Fair maps require the best possible data from U.S. Census Bureau, which may result in our state missing the Sept. 15 constitutional deadline. The Supreme Court will have a crucial role if that delay occurs, and it is imperative that the Court ensure we continue Iowa’s long tradition of fair maps for every Iowan.”
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