Judge allows Legislature to file 'friend of court' briefs

Posted: Thursday, November 01, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska's Legislature will be allowed to participate in a lawsuit over the state's new political boundaries, but only on a limited basis.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rinder dismissed the Legislature from a lawsuit challenging the new redistricting map in an order issued last week. But Rinder said the legislative body may file a so-called friend of the court brief.

That means the GOP-controlled Legislature can argue its objection to the map that pits 20 Republican incumbents against each other, but may not participate in the trial.

''They can watch, but not play,'' said Philip R. Volland, the attorney defending the state's new redistricting map.

Volland had asked Rinder to dismiss the Legislature because it missed a court-imposed deadline to file its lawsuit. He also argued that it had no right to be involved in the case.

The Alaska Constitution allows any qualified voter to sue in Superior Court to correct errors within 30 days of the final adoption of the plan.

Volland argued that individual legislators are affected by the map but the Legislature's ability to make laws is unaffected.

The ruling is expected to have minimal impact on the case since House Speaker Brian Porter and Senate President Rick Halford, both Republicans, are already involved in the lawsuit. So too is Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich.

''It's not a bad thing,'' said Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage. ''We can't do the actual work, but we can make our position well known to the plaintiffs.''

Green is chairman of the Legislative Council, which voted along party lines to file the lawsuit. The Legislative Council acts on behalf of the Legislature when it is not in session.

Nine lawsuits have been filed by communities and Republican leaders objecting to the new plan approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board in June. A new legislative map is drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

Republican leaders have argued the map represents flagrant gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing a legislative district for political gain.

The redistricting board is made up of two members each appointed by the Legislature and Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat. An additional member was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, herself a Knowles' appointee. Both Knowles appointees and the board member picked by Fabe voted in favor of the map.

The trial is scheduled for Jan. 14 and is expected to last three weeks, Volland said.

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