Justice Steve Gonzalez asks a question during the McCleary case (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)
Justice Steve Gonzalez asks a question during the McCleary case (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court this evening for­mal­ly respond­ed to the news that the 2021 Wash­ing­ton State Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion had failed in its efforts to draw new leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al maps for the Ever­green State, direct­ing the Com­mis­sion’s Chair, Sarah Augus­tine, to file a sworn dec­la­ra­tion by noon this com­ing Mon­day detail­ing what exact­ly hap­pened at the com­mis­sion’s dead­line day meet­ing on Mon­day and the hours lead­ing up to it.

The order, issued and signed by Chief Jus­tice Steve Gon­za­lez, notes in its where­as claus­es that it is unclear what exact­ly tran­spired three evenings ago and states that Augus­tine shall pro­vide “a detailed time­line of the events of Novem­ber 15, 2021, and Novem­ber 16, 2021, rel­e­vant to the commission’s com­pli­ance with its oblig­a­tions  under arti­cle II, sec­tion 43 sub­sec­tions (6) and (11) of the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion and RCW 44.05.100.”

“This should include,” the order adds, “the tim­ing of any votes tak­en by the com­mis­sion, exact­ly what each vote was regard­ing, and any oth­er actions tak­en by the com­mis­sion rel­e­vant to their con­sti­tu­tion­al and statu­to­ry oblig­a­tions under arti­cle II, sec­tion 43 sub­sec­tions (6) and 11 and RCW 44.05.100.”

The Court’s full order is below:

Supreme Court’s Novem­ber 18th order to the Redis­trict­ing Commission

Augus­tine is the non­vot­ing chair appoint­ed by the four Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can vot­ing com­mis­sion­ers (April Sims, Brady Walkin­shaw, Joe Fain, and Paul Graves) to pre­side over the com­mis­sion’s pro­ceed­ings and facil­i­tate their work.

The afore­men­tioned meet­ing, wit­nessed by our team at NPI along with many oth­er polit­i­cal­ly attuned Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, was held elec­tron­i­cal­ly using Zoom and web­cast through YouTube, TVW, and oth­er plat­forms. Though it was sup­posed to be a pub­lic meet­ing, most of what tran­spired at the meet­ing tran­spired in pri­vate, includ­ing almost all of the nego­ti­at­ing between the commissioners.

Of the five hours on the meet­ing record­ing, less than forty min­utes con­sist­ed of any­thing oth­er than the cyber equiv­a­lent of dead air, as you can see from watch­ing this edit­ed ver­sion of the meet­ing that we put together:

Because it was clear­ly unpre­pared to take action by its con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly man­dat­ed Novem­ber 15th dead­line for agree­ing to maps, the com­mis­sion found itself backed into a cor­ner as the 11:59:59 dead­line rapid­ly approached.

With no maps ready to approve, the com­mis­sion­ers decid­ed at the last minute to sim­ply hold votes on the car­to­graph­ic equiv­a­lent of vaporware.

But even that gam­bit failed.

By noon the next day, the Com­mis­sion had belat­ed­ly con­ced­ed defeat… but not before send­ing this let­ter to the Leg­is­la­ture pro­claim­ing it had succeeded:

Redis­trict­ing Commission’s trans­mit­tal letter

Nei­ther the let­ter nor any oth­er mate­ri­als were shown onscreen or avail­able online to read as the Com­mis­sion was hasti­ly vot­ing on its eleventh hour motions.

That left view­ers, us includ­ed, won­der­ing what the heck the com­mis­sion­ers were actu­al­ly vot­ing on. It seems the Supreme Court has those very same ques­tions. And unlike the rest of us, they have the pow­er to com­pel answers.

The Court sent a clear mes­sage to the com­mis­sion­ers with its order today: Explain your­selves. Give us a detailed account­ing of what you were attempt­ing to do and what the spe­cif­ic sequence of events was. Don’t both­er with spin or excuses.

Though it did not have maps ready for even the com­mis­sion­ers to look at pri­or to Mon­day night’s vote, the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion has since pub­lished a set of PDFs and shape­files that it has labeled its final work product.

Com­mis­sion­ers have sug­gest­ed to the Court that it sim­ply adopt those maps and rub­ber stamp their work. With its order today, the Court today indi­cat­ed it will be doing its own work after it gets a full, trans­par­ent account­ing of recent events.

The Com­mis­sion may also be oblig­at­ed to pro­vide sim­i­lar infor­ma­tion in Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court. That’s where activist Arthur West filed a law­suit alleg­ing that the Com­mis­sion fla­grant­ly vio­lat­ed the state’s open meet­ings law.

Read West­’s com­plaint below.

Redis­trict­ing suit by Arthur West

In relat­ed news, the Court’s Office of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions & Pub­lic Out­reach told NPI and oth­er media out­lets that it is in the process of set­ting up a Court-admin­is­tered web­site for all redis­trict­ing updates. This is expect­ed to be oper­a­tional short­ly. We should soon know more about how the Supreme Court intends to approach the task of draw­ing leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al maps. It’s the first time the job has fall­en to the Court since the state adopt­ed a com­mis­sion mod­el for redistricting.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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