Judge raises constitutional issues with parts of Alaska map

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A state court judge has raised constitutional concerns with the handling of east Anchorage Senate districts and part of the southeast Alaska map by the board tasked with redrawing the state’s political boundaries.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews, in a ruling dated Tuesday, ordered the plan returned to the Alaska Redistricting Board to “take a ‘hard look’” at a Senate district that pairs part of Anchorage’s Muldoon area with a “geographically and demographically distinct” Eagle River area House district, and southeast Alaska House districts for which Matthews found the board had ignored “the clear weight of public testimony” from Skagway and Juneau.

Matthews said the board must either redraw the districts called into question “to incorporate the reasonable requests supported by the clear weight of public testimony” or “offer an explanation as to why it believes the constitution, federal law, or other traditional redistricting criteria make it impossible to achieve those results.”

Peter Torkelson, the board’s executive director, said the decision was under review by the board’s legal team.

The judge’s order can be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Matthews said the board failed to hold “meaningful public hearings” on proposed Senate districts before they were adopted. In comments the board did receive, “support for keeping Muldoon and Eagle River separate was loud and clear,” Matthews wrote.

The board split the Eagle River area into two Senate districts, pairing an Eagle River House district with an Anchorage district that includes a military base and another Eagle River district with part of the Muldoon area.

Senate districts are created by pairing House districts.

“This court finds that the Board’s refusal to consider and make a good-faith effort to incorporate public feedback relating to the placement of Skagway and the dividing line in Juneau was arbitrary and capricious, and thus unreasonable,” Matthews wrote. “The same holds true for the East Anchorage senate pairings.”

Skagway had argued there was strong public testimony in favor of keeping Skagway in a district that included downtown Juneau. The board plan instead included Skagway in a district with other parts of Juneau.