The Minnesota Constitution empowers the state legislature to draw U.S. House and state legislative districts, subject to a gubernatorial veto. However, political stalemates have resulted in an appointed panel of judges drawing at least one set of districts every decade since the 1960s. Due to Republican control of the Minnesota Senate and Democratic– Farmer–Labor Party (DFL) control of the Minnesota House, the legislature’s February 2022 constitutional deadline for completing redistricting passed without agreement on a map. In anticipation of this outcome, the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed the Minnesota Judicial Branch Special Redistricting Panel several months earlier.
Community of Interest Story
A coalition of organizations, grassroots groups, and community activists called the Minnesota Alliance for Democracy implemented a grassroots redistricting reform campaign called OurMapsMN. The campaign focused on empowering communities of color and other impacted communities in the state in the redistricting process.
This collective effort included engagement with 21 organizations across the state that are focused on communities of color and approximately 400 community members representative of ten self-identified racial and ethnic groups. Community meetings were held in 11 cities located in eight target counties to guide Minnesotans through the process of drawing their communities and developing coalition maps. The coalition conducted mapping and engagement in five languages. As a result of the more than 100 hours of outreach and trainings, the Alliance submitted 4,200 written statements to the Minnesota Senate, 1,600 to the Minnesota House, and more than 40 community of interest maps. This organizing led to an increase in minority opportunity districts in the state legislature.
Overall State Grade: C+
The five-judge Special Redistricting Panel held ten public hearings across the state in 15 days and accepted written statements from the public. In addition, it adjudicated a case with four different plaintiff groups who proposed principles for drawing districts and sample maps. The Corrie Plaintiffs (Common Cause, OneMinnesota.org, Voices for Racial Justice, Professor Bruce Corrie, and other individual Minnesotans of color) were the only parties expressly advocating on behalf of the state’s communities of color. These plaintiffs submitted maps and arguments in support of its proposed districts based on the extensive organizing of the Minnesota Alliance for Democracy coalition. Their participation was crucial to the gains in representation that communities of color made.
Minnesota’s grade this redistricting cycle reflects the fact that the judicial panel heard public input and helped make important strides toward fair representation, particularly for communities of color. However, the grade also represents the judicial conservatism that prevented the panel from a wholesale reconstruction of the state’s maps despite significant demographic shifts.
- Organizing and joining litigation was crucial to ensuring wins for communities of color: Several districts reflected community input that the Corrie Plaintiffs presented to the special judicial panel in charge of drawing districts. Final maps kept three Native American tribes in Northern Minnesota in one U.S. House district and one Minnesota Senate district. The new state Senate District 2, which includes reservation lands for the White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake Nations, drew two Native candidates: Republican state Representative Steve Green, a White Earth enrollee who won the race, and Alan Roy, a Democrat and White Earth Nation tribal leader. The Court also met the Corrie Plaintiffs’ proposed number of majority-minority POC districts with nine in the Minnesota House and five in the Minnesota Senate. Overall, the court nearly met the Corrie POC opportunity district numbers with 22 Minnesota House seats (the plaintiffs sought 24) and 10 Minnesota Senate seats (equal to the plaintiffs’ map). Also, a Latinx community split between the cities of St. Paul and West St. Paul was put together in one state legislative district.
- The least-change philosophy of redistricting must be attacked directly: Despite these key wins, advocates were disappointed with the extent to which the new districts reflected the status quo despite their view that a wholesale change to districts was needed. The judicial panel stated that “courts lack the ‘political authoritativeness’ of the legislature and must perform redistricting in a restrained manner,” and that they “must start with the existing districts” before making only minimal changes. The growth of Minnesota’s communities of color is solely responsible for the state maintaining the same number of congressional districts it had last decade. Advocates believed that this profound change in the state’s demographics justified a wholesale reevaluation of districts that have remained largely the same for decades. Regardless, the judicial panel maintained a decades-old view that its hands were tied by previous generations of mapmakers. Minnesota advocates should consider pushing for a requirement that districts be drawn from scratch based on public input and prohibit the use of a least-change approach that leaves districts largely intact decade after decade.