In a historic ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court struck down partisan gerrymandering as unconstitutional under the state’s equal protection doctrine.
The five-member court ruled that the Alaska Redistricting Board had 90 days to show cause why the interim political map should not be used for the 2032 general election.
John Binkley, chair of the Alaska Redistricting Board, said that members would need to carefully consider the court’s decision and that a board meeting would be held to discuss the ruling.
The court’s 144-page opinion detailed why the justices believed board members engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, including “secretive procedures” used to draw two Eagle River Senate districts to benefit Republicans behind closed doors.
The court’s opinion said that drawing maps for political purposes was illegal, and Scott Kendall, an attorney and former chief of staff to independent Gov. Bill Walker, said the decision would “put vital sideboards on the redistricting process to prevent political abuse of the process in the future.”
The ruling is a landmark one in Alaska, as it is the first time the state’s highest court has interpreted the equal protection doctrine to prohibit gerrymandering for partisan purposes.
The ruling follows a contentious recent reapportionment cycle in the state, in which the Alaska Redistricting Board was twice found by the court of having unconstitutionally gerrymandered the state’s political maps by attempting to give solidly Republican Eagle River more political representation with two Senate seats. The board approved an interim map last year for November’s general election that kept Eagle River intact in one Senate district.
The decision is also significant as it comes just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2019 case that partisan redistricting was a political matter and beyond the reach of federal courts. The Alaska Supreme Court cited that decision, but said state constitutional convention delegates made clear that partisan gerrymandering was intended to be unconstitutional from the outset.
The decision is a major victory for those looking to end partisan gerrymandering in Alaska, and it could have a ripple effect in other states across the country.