Minimal disruption in Iowa redistricting plan despite delayed Census data

The Iowa Constitution requires the legislature to enact redistricting maps by September 15. That date will come and go given the delayed release of Census data. The first map from Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (unique and widely praised) comes out September 16, among the earliest releases from the states, which it then submits to the legislature.

In April, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a cryptic and “tentative” but not “legally binding” press release about what might happen if the September 15 deadline could not be met. The state constitution requires that “the supreme court shall cause the state to be apportioned.” It’s an awkward phrase, but read in conjunction with the next paragraph of the state constitution, which requires the court to “adopt or cause to be adopted an apportionment plan” if the apportion is unconstitutional, it means that the Iowa Supreme Court plays an indirect role. The April release suggested that the Court would extend the deadline for the legislature to act according to its existing responsibility, which would “cause the state to be apportioned.”

Today, the Court issued an order doing just that. The deadline has been extended to December 1, with the legislature permitted to enact a law pursuant to the Iowa Code. Governor Kim Reynolds has called the legislature into a special session October 5 to consider the first maps from the LSA, again consistent with the Iowa Code.

It’s a simple, straightforward solution that allows the ordinary process to play out, albeit on an extended timeline. And it preserves the respective roles of the LSA, the legislature, and the courts–the LSA drafts the maps, the legislature approves or disapproves them (and might ultimately amend the maps), and the court steps in to review the plans only at the end.

As other states wrangle with how to handle redistricting on an expedited basis, it’s encouraging to see little drama and a strong rule-of-law bent here in the Hawkeye State. Let’s hope other states follow suit.

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