Liberal groups sue over PSC maps

Plaintiffs, represented by liberal non-profit Upper Seven Law, filed a motion this week with the Lewis and Clark County District Court, asserting that the current Public Service Commission (PSC) district map is excessively partisan and should not be utilized in the upcoming election. The motion, on behalf of Montana Conservation Voters and individual voters, urges the court to grant a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from conducting the next PSC election under the allegedly gerrymandered map.

The Public Service Commission, responsible for regulating monopoly utilities in Montana, consists of five commissioners, all currently Republicans, elected by district. The contentious map resulted from Senate Bill 109 during the recent legislative session. Montana Conservation Voters, a liberal nonprofit focused on the environment and blocking natural resource development, argues that the map unfairly favors Republicans across all districts, violating neutral redistricting criteria.

Previously, a federal three-judge panel invalidated a 2003 PSC district map, citing significant irregularities. In March 2022, the panel mandated the use of a specific map for the 2022 PSC election but affirmed the legislature’s authority to draw a new map. In 2023, lawmakers, led by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, passed SB 109 to establish the current map.

The lawsuit, directed at the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges that the map is unconstitutional due to discriminatory treatment of political ideas. Upper Seven Law contends that the map ensures Republican victories with and cites the analysis of liberal redistricting expert Stephanie Somersille, who compared it to numerous other maps.

According to the brief, SB 109’s map is less compact than neutral alternatives and disproportionately splits cities, ostensibly securing a partisan advantage for Republicans. The plaintiffs argue that the map fails to align with Montana’s political and geographical diversity, artificially concentrating Democratic votes in certain districts. They emphasize the need for neutral, nonpartisan criteria in drawing districts to prevent gerrymandering and safeguard voters’ democratic rights.

Upper Seven Law calls for the court to invalidate the map, asserting that it unjustly usurps voters’ decision-making power regarding PSC representation. The lawsuit contends that SB 109 is unconstitutional as it allegedly discriminates against voters based on their political beliefs, hindering democratic competition. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment on the pending litigation, reiterating that the office does not draw maps.

By: Politics 406 Staff