Iowa Supreme Court says it will try to maintain nonpartisan redistricting process

An Iowa lawyer who admitted taking money from clients without doing any work on their cases has had his Iowa law license revoked by the Iowa Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

The Iowa Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will make sure Iowa’s redistricting follows, “to the extent possible,” the nonpartisan process laid out in law if the legislative branch cannot meet its September deadline.

Every 10 years, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency spends several months creating proposed new congressional and legislative districts. Then, lawmakers have until Sept. 1 to approve a plan. The governor must sign off by Sept. 15.

The problem this year is that the U.S. Census data used to draw those maps may not arrive until late September, after the deadlines are passed. Iowa’s Constitution specifies that, if the legislative and executive branches do not meet their deadlines, the Supreme Court must lead the process.

“If the General Assembly is not able to meet the constitutional deadline, the Supreme Court tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework presently set forth in Iowa Code Chapter 42 to proceed after Sept. 15,” the statement reads. 

Legislative leaders released statements emphasizing the importance of a nonpartisan redistricting process. Unlike most other states, Iowa relies on the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency to design new district maps. 

“Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process is considered one of the fairest in all 50 states,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. “I appreciate the Iowa Supreme Court’s willingness to protect the integrity of our current, highly praised redistricting process in Iowa.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, wrote: “The Supreme Court will have a crucial role if that delay occurs, and it is imperative that the Court ensure we continue Iowa’s long tradition of fair maps for every Iowan.” 

It remains unclear whether lawmakers or the Legislative Services Agency would be allowed to weigh in on the redistricting map after Sept. 15 or if the Supreme Court would take full control.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver suggested in a statement he expects the Legislature to maintain its role. “The U.S. Constitution, the Iowa Constitution, and Iowa law all place the responsibility for the redistricting process in the hands of the Iowa Legislature,” Whitver, R-Ankeny, said. “I share the court’s desire to retain Iowa’s current redistricting process and the Iowa Legislature’s role, despite the pointless and legally dubious delays from the Biden Administration.”