Supreme Court to Redistricting Commission: Tell us exactly what you did on Monday night

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

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