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The Alliance for a Better Utah criticized Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes for signing onto an amicus brief supporting the practice of partisan gerrymandering.

Reyes’ signature on an amicus brief in the case of Gill v. Whitford, a case challenging partisan boundaries drawn by the Wisconsin legislature, had gone previously unreported in the Utah press even though it was filed over a month ago in early August.

“By signing this brief, Reyes is fighting against the principle of democratic representation,” said Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel for Better Utah. “As the saying goes, ‘voters should choose their representatives; representatives should not choose their voters.’ Partisan gerrymandering allows politicians to stay in power and solidifies control of political parties, taking from voters the ability to be proportionately represented in their government. We are extremely disappointed to learn Reyes is supporting this practice.”

Reyes joined fifteen other Republican Attorneys General, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in signing the amicus brief, which argues partisan gerrymandering is not unconstitutional.

Reyes stands in stark contrast to other Republicans who support the elimination of partisan gerrymandering as exemplified in the Whitford case. Yesterday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Ohio Governor John Kasich, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and dozens of current and former members of Congress signed onto amicus briefs in support of ending the practice.

The case before the Supreme Court, Gill v. Whitford, involves the 2011 redrawing of district boundaries in Wisconsin. Republicans, gaining control of the state House and Senate for the first time in forty years, allegedly redrew district boundaries along partisan lines. The suit argues partisan gerrymandering effectively stripped Democrats of their individual voting power.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the case next month on October 3. The decision, which could come later this year, could have huge impacts on partisan gerrymandering throughout the nation, especially if the practice is held to be unconstitutional, a position the Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to address.

“It is unfortunate that Reyes has decided to defend partisan politics, rather than standing up to protect voters,” continued Thomas.  

This controversy comes as Better Boundaries prepares to gather signatures for its initiative, which would create an independent commission to advise the Utah Legislature as it draws new voting boundaries every ten years during redistricting. When asked his opinion on the proposed initiative, Governor Gary Herbert said the idea was worth considering, but would not express support or opposition to the measure. With this ambiguity, it is not clear if Herbert and Reyes share the same opinion on the issue of redistricting.

In sum, Thomas called on “Governor Herbert, state legislators, and other Utah officials to join those from both sides of the aisle who are taking the long view in recognizing that partisan gerrymandering is a threat to our democratic values.”

The Alliance for a Better Utah supports any reform to the redistricting process leading to more proportional representation among constituents. The organization was one of the main watchdogs during the 2011 redistricting, criticizing the Legislature for the way it conducted that process, and plans to play the same role for the 2021 redistricting.