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Ada County asks for deadline extension with SCOTUS to challenge Idaho redistricting plan

Ada County - 2021
Otto Kitsinger
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The Ada County Courthouse in Boise on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

U.S. Supreme Court records show extension was granted until July 14 to file petition

The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office has applied for and received an extension to a deadline to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the state’s redistricting plan.

According to court records available through the U.S. Supreme Court’s website, on May 17 Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts requested a 45-day extension of the May 30 deadline to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Idaho Supreme Court’s Jan. 27 unanimous ruling upholding the state’s legislative redistricting plan.

U.S. Supreme Court records show the extension was granted, and Ada County officials have until July 14 to file their petition now. In requesting the deadline extension, Ada County prosecutors wrote that an attorney on the case had to withdraw because of medical issues that needed immediate treatment.

Redistricting took place in 2021 and was the process of using 2020 census population data to redraw Idaho’s legislative and congressional districts to ensure political representation is as equal as possible. Redistricting takes place all across the country every 10 years, and the process is required by the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution.

Ada County’s challenge to Idaho’s legislative redistricting map

Ada County filed one of the four challenges against Idaho’s legislative redistricting plan in November 2021. In the original challenge, Ada County Commissioners Rod Beck, Ryan Davidson and Kendra Kenyon argued Idaho’s legislative redistricting map should be thrown out because it divided eight of Idaho’s 44 counties when maps submitted by the public only divided seven Idaho counties.

Ada County officials argued in their original challenge that the legislative redistricting map improperly divided up urban, fast growing parts of Ada County and combined it with sparsely populated neighboring rural counties.

“… It takes a portion of northern Ada County and joins it with Gem County for a district anyway,” Ada County’s original challenge stated. “The Commission then takes a slice of Ada County to the west and joins it with Canyon County for another district. Finally, it takes southern Ada County and joins it with Owyhee County and Canyon County for another district.”

In January, Idaho Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld Idaho’s redistricting plan and ruled the plan did not violate the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution. Justices said there are other requirements and considerations for redistricting, including ensuring legislative districts have as close to equal population as possible — not just trying to divide as few counties as possible.

“Due to Idaho’s unique geography and the supremacy of federal law, there is unavoidable tension between the Idaho Constitution’s restraint against splitting counties and the Federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause,” Idaho Supreme Court Justice John Stenger wrote in the opinion. “Navigating this tension is no easy feat.”

Even if the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office moves forward with filing a petition by the new July 14 deadline, there is no guarantee the U.S. Supreme Court would take the challenge up and review the ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court.

However, if the U.S Supreme Court does take the challenge up, overturns the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling or throws out Idaho’s redistricting plan, the fallout could be messy or unpredictable. The new legislative districts created by Idaho’s redistricting plan were used during the 2022 primary election, which took place May 17.

Ada County spokeswoman Elizabeth Duncan could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Ada County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Emily Lowe confirmed Ada County requested the extension and now has until July 14 to file a petition.