The Connecticut State Supreme Court must decide how to handle a battle over how maps for congressional districts should be redrawn.
The matter moved to the court after a legislative committee charged with redrawing the boundaries of Connecticut's five congressional districts missed its Wednesday deadline for reaching a bipartisan agreement.
Lawyers representing Democrats and Republicans on the panel submitted separate legal briefs to the state's high court. The court now faces a Feb. 15 deadline for a final plan, but it's unclear what the justices' next step will be.
Lawmakers theorized the court could handle the redistricting itself, seek help from an outside source, appoint a special master to handle the process or order the committee back to work.
"This was unfortunate, regrettable and avoidable," said Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. "We did not want this matter to go to court. There's really no reason for this to be the lap of the Supreme Court, and I regret that."
The Democrats, who currently hold all five U.S. House seats, maintain that few changes are needed to district borders since the last reapportionment a decade ago because of minimal population changes. In their legal filing, they urged the court to adopt streamlined procedures to revise the existing district lines.
Republicans, who lost control of their last U.S. House seat in 2008, urged the court to appoint a special master to develop a redistricting map for consideration.
During the closed-door talks, the GOP advocated moving Democratic-heavy Bridgeport and New Britain into different congressional districts. In their final offer, they dropped the Bridgeport proposal, but stuck with shifting New Britain from the 5th District, which also includes Danbury and which is an open seat, into the 1st District, which includes Hartford.
Republicans argued that such a change made sense, given New Britain's proximity to Democrat-dominated Hartford.
While acknowledging removing New Britain would make the district more politically competitive for Republicans, they also argued there's a need to address gerrymandering that occurred 10 years ago during the last reapportionment. That's when Connecticut lost one congressional seat and created a new, somewhat oddly shaped 5th Congressional District.
Rep. Arthur O'Neill, a Southbury Republican who was a member of the 2011 and 2001 reapportionment committees, said the GOP was trying to "undo the damage" from a decade ago and "put the Humpty Dumpty back together again as much as we can."
Proposals to move Bridgeport and New Britain into more urban districts were met with strong resistance from some minority groups. State Rep. Robert Sanchez said moving New Britain into the Hartford-centric 1st District would concentrate racial minorities into one region and lessen their political influence with candidates.
"Leave the maps as they are," said Sanchez, D-New Britain. "There are no problems with the maps."
Democrats called the Republican plan politically motivated, radical and unnecessary.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said the task of identifying about 714,000 people for each of the five districts should have been simple considering the small number of changes that needed to be made. He said the 2nd District had the biggest variation in population, with nearly 15,000 people that had to be shifted outside its lines. The 5th District, he said, had just 523 people that needed to be moved.
"We had a relatively simple task in front of us," said Sharkey, D-Hamden. "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 accused Democrats of playing politics.
"The reason they want it the same is because they want to keep all seats, period. And the reason they won't budge in the 5th is because they want their candidates keep the 5th, that's it, simple as that," said Cafero, R-Norwalk. "They like the crazy districts as it is because they're winning in them. Period. End of story."
House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, is among several Democrats vying for the 5th District. Originally a member of the redistricting commission, he stepped aside in November after finishing the newly drawn legislative districts.
Based on reporting from the Associated Press.