Washington's High Court to Decide Redistricting Lines After Committee Misses Deadline

After the bipartisan committee in charge of redrawing Washington state's legislative district maps missed its Monday night deadline, the state Supreme Court is now in charge of creating the new map.

The committee, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans appointed by state legislative caucus leaders, cited the delayed release of 2020 Census data and technical issues as the reasons they missed the 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline.

According to The Associated Press, Commission Chair Sarah Augustine is requesting the state Supreme Court justices consider the maps they released after the deadline Tuesday rather than their work going to waste.

"While we acknowledge we missed the deadline for our maps to be considered by the Legislature, we see no reason why the Court can't do so," Augustine said in a statement late Tuesday night. "These maps reflect the input of the thousands of people who took part in the process with us. It would be a shame to see these maps go unconsidered simply because the clock struck 12."

In accordance with state law and current populations, the state Supreme Court is now responsible for drawing 10 U.S. House districts, along with 49 state legislative districts that will remain in effect until the next Census, starting with the 2022 midterm elections.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Washington, Supreme Court, Census, Redistricting
A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The Washington state Supreme Court has to handle redistricting maps after a committee missed its deadline to do so. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press File

This is the first time the panel has failed to finish its work on time since the state adopted a constitutional amendment giving redistricting authority to a bipartisan commission after the 1990 census.

Despite the plea to the Supreme Court many were critical of the process by the panel, especially in the final hours Monday night when there were complaints its deliberations were closed to the public and may have violated open meetings laws.

The commission released its final maps late Tuesday -- a day after their time limit.

The commission members scheduled a news conference for Thursday.

The panel's work was denounced by Redistricting Justice for Washington, which had been seeking a majority Hispanic legislative district in the agricultural Yakima Valley. That was likely a key point of contention on the commission, the group said.

The state Supreme Court said it was prepared to take on the redistricting job.

"If it is confirmed that the commission missed the Nov. 15th deadline ... the Supreme Court shall adopt a plan by April 30, 2022," the court said. "The court will await filings from the parties."

The April 30 deadline would give candidates and incumbents less than three weeks to know the boundaries of their U.S. House and legislative districts before the May 20, 2022, deadline to file for office.

Currently, Washington has seven Democratic U.S. House members and three Republicans. The state Legislature is controlled by Democrats.

Washington's Supreme Court justices are elected but the contests are officially non-partisan.

The Democratic appointees were former legislator Brady Piñero Walkinshaw and state labor-council leader April Sims; Republican commissioners were former state legislators Joe Fain and Paul Graves.

By law, at least three of the four had to agree on new political maps by Nov. 15.

In its late Tuesday statement, the panel said it sent a copy of the final mapping plan to the Supreme Court.

"The plan won Commission support but was not completed in the time prescribed by law thereby giving jurisdiction over the process to the Court," the statement said.

Washington State, Elections, Census, Districts
Tyna Ek of Seattle wears a mask with the face of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pictured on it during a march to "Count Every Vote, Protect Every Person" on the day after the US Presidential Election in Seattle, Washington on November 4, 2020. Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images