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Conn. Supreme Court to appoint special master

Susan Haigh

The state Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it plans to appoint a special master to help settle the new boundaries for the state's five congressional districts after a legislative panel failed to reach a bipartisan deal.

The state's highest court issued an order asking the Democrats and Republicans on the redistricting committee to submit a list of possible candidates for the special master position, if they can't agree on an appropriate nominee. Those lists are due Friday morning.

In their order, the justices said they "are mindful that the drawing of voting districts is a political question and is quintessentially a legislative function," but that the court is "constrained by the mandate" of the Connecticut Constitution and a Feb. 15 deadline "to commence work on the petition immediately."

Meanwhile, the court said lawmakers can still keep working on reaching a possible bipartisan agreement, even though they had missed their deadline last week.

"The (legislative redistricting) commission shall continue working to agree on a redistricting plan, and we maintain hope that legislative action will be forthcoming," according to the order. "If at any time during these proceedings a redistricting plan validly is enacted, the court will then take such action that it deems appropriate."

Messages were left seeking comment with Democratic and Republican spokesmen.

Republican lawmakers had urged the justices to appoint a nonpartisan special master after a deal could not be reached. The GOP argues there are glaring flaws in the current congressional district map that was drawn up 10 years ago when Connecticut lost a district due to changing populations and lawmakers had to combine the 5th and 6th districts _ creating an oddly shaped, new 5th district.

But the Democrats, who currently hold all five congressional seats, argued in legal papers that only minor changes were needed to the district lines to account for the latest population fluctuations. They accused the Republicans of offering "radical changes," such as moving Democratic-heavy Bridgeport and New Britain into different districts.

"We had a relatively simple task in front of us," House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said last week. "Rather than pursue it in that way and in that vein, the Republicans chose to make this a political exercise to redraw the entire political map of the state of Connecticut so that they could benefit in one or more of the districts that we currently have."

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said last week that the Democrats were the ones trying to play politics.

"The reason they want it the same is because they want to keep all seats, period," he said.

Besides the list of possible candidates for special master, the Supreme Court has asked the Democrats and Republicans to appear in court on Friday to answer questions about what should be considered when appointing a special master, the process and procedures the special master should follow, the scope of his or her duties, any legal and policy parameters affecting the special master's proposed map, and any other issues.

The court plans to appoint the special master on Jan. 5 and "proceedings" will be held from Jan. 6 through Jan. 18. The master will have until Jan. 27 to submit a report, including a recommended new congressional map, to the Supreme Court.

Democrats and Republicans will have an opportunity to submit legal briefs raising any objections to the special master's plan in February. The court has until Feb. 15 to file its plan with the Secretary of the State.

The Associated Press