The five-person board in charge of drawing Alaska’s legislative districts will pay $400,000 to settle financial claims brought by a group of East Anchorage plaintiffs who successfully challenged the boundaries of Eagle River’s state Senate district last year.
In total, the state will have paid more than $600,000 to settle financial claims resulting from what the Alaska Supreme Court called “an unconstitutional political gerrymander.”
Two smaller financial claims by other plaintiffs remain unresolved, but Friday’s decision by the redistricting board is likely the last major action in the state’s once-per-decade redistricting process.
Last year, the board controversially chose to split Eagle River’s two state House districts between separate Senate districts. Alaska’s state Senate districts consist of two House districts apiece, and the division would have given the politically conservative area greater influence in the state Senate.
Part of East Anchorage that is less conservative would have been joined with one of the Eagle River districts, something opposed by area residents, who sued, claiming political bias.
A lower court ruled in favor of the East Anchorage plaintiffs, and the Alaska Supreme Court said the board’s actions were unconstitutional.
The justices demanded a new map, and the board complied, instead linking one of the Eagle River seats to a South Anchorage House district that includes progressive-leaning Girdwood.
Girdwood residents challenged that decision, and the Supreme Court again ordered a new map. The board then linked the two Eagle River state House districts together in one Senate district for the 2022 election.
After the election, the board adopted that interim map as its permanent choice, creating legislative districts that will be used until at least 2030.
Alaska state law requires courts to award “full reasonable attorney fees and costs” to someone who prevails in a constitutional law case within the state.
In late August, the Supreme Court awarded almost $82,000 to the East Anchorage plaintiffs and $15,000 to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which had filed a separate, mostly unsuccessful, lawsuit relating to the boundaries of state House districts.
That resolved Supreme Court costs but didn’t resolve the costs of the lawsuit in state Superior Court, where most of the legal work took place.
East Anchorage plaintiffs requested the Superior Court award them $680,000, a figure opposed by the redistricting board. The two sides eventually settled at $400,000.
In June, the board agreed to pay $115,000 to the plaintiffs from Girdwood, settling their Supreme Court and Superior Court claims.
The city of Valdez and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough lost most of their challenges, which involved the boundaries of state House districts, but did win a decision when justices overturned the “Cantwell appendage,” a proposal that drew boundaries around that Interior town in an attempt to include it in the same House district as other Ahtna communities.
Based on that victory, Valdez and the Mat-Su have requested financial awards from the Superior Court, and those claims remain pending.
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