Minnesota lawmakers sketch new district maps, but courts likely to have final say

Minnesota lawmakers are starting the process of drawing new legislative district maps for the 2022 elections, while a special panel set up by the Minnesota Supreme Court is preparing to be the ultimate decider.

Democrats who control the Minnesota House released their redistricting maps Friday. It's unclear when the GOP-controlled Senate will counter. A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said she didn't know the caucus's timeline.

The country's only divided Legislature is unlikely to strike a deal by the Feb. 15 deadline, requiring courts to draw final maps for Minnesota's eight congressional districts and the 201 state House and Senate districts. House Democrats said they hoped the courts wouldn't have to get involved.

"We are committed to doing all we can to deliver a bipartisan result to the governor," state Rep. Ginny Klevorn, DFL-Plymouth, told reporters.

As the Legislature lurches ahead, the Minnesota Supreme Court's special panel has scheduled oral arguments on Jan. 4 over a lawsuit filed by activist groups about Minnesota's redistricting process. The panel said in a Thursday order that the Legislature will get the first shot at reaching an agreement, but that it's prepared to take over after Feb. 15.

In a series of principles, the special panel said it would draw districts that are within 2 percent of an ideal district -- a population of 42,586 for the House and 85,172 for the Senate. The court-drawn districts will be convenient and contiguous, do not violate federal voting rights laws, and do not protect incumbents, the panel said.

House Democrats held a Friday morning news conference about their maps but declined to release them ahead of time and take questions on the specifics. State Rep. Mary Murphy, who chairs the House's redistricting committee, said she had "no idea" how many incumbent representatives had been put into another incumbent's district. 

House Republicans said their research showed the DFL had paired 36 incumbents together, meaning 18 districts would have an open seat without an incumbent.

The redistricting process will have major consequences at the state Capitol, where the House and Senate are both controlled with narrow majorities and all 201 seats are on the 2022 ballot.

Redrawing the maps is required every 10 years because of population shifts. In Minnesota, Metro-area districts will get geographically smaller because of population gains, while many rural districts will have to absorb more territory because of population loss.

The process usually leads to a wave of legislative retirements, especially among lawmakers who are drawn into a new district.