Mum's the Word | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Mum's the Word 

Gov. Cox says Utah voting maps weren't 'illegally' gerrymandered, declines comment on lawsuit

Pin It
click to enlarge Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to members of the press at PBS Utah on Thursday, March 17. - TRENT NELSON/POOL PHOTO
  • Trent Nelson/Pool Photo
  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to members of the press at PBS Utah on Thursday, March 17.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox declined to comment Thursday on a lawsuit challenging the state’s new voting maps, which were hastily approved by lawmakers after they rejected the work of a voter-created, independent redistricting commission.

The maps drawn by lawmakers and signed into law by Cox split Salt Lake County among the state’s four congressional districts, overtly diluting the voting power of Utah’s left-leaning urban core, while also disregarding neighborhood, city and county boundaries throughout the state.

Speaking to journalists during his monthly televised press conference at PBS Utah, Cox said he stands by his decision to sign off on the state's redistricting effort. But he then made a point to emphasize that he does not consider the Legislature’s maps to be an example of “illegal” gerrymandering.

“We don’t comment on active litigation,” Cox said.

Cox's press conference was held on the same day that the League of Women Voters of Utah, Mormon Women for Ethical Government and other plaintiffs filed suit against the state, challenging Utah’s new congressional districts and accusing the state of violating voters’ rights to a free and fair election.

“Unfair maps and gerrymandering dilute the voices of communities and consequently hurt voters of all parties,” Catherine Weller, President of League of Women Voters of Utah, said in a prepared statement. “As a nonpartisan organization, our focus is on the voters and ensuring that every voice is heard.”

Weller was among several of the lawsuit's plaintiffs who—not long after Cox's press conference—spoke to reporters from the steps of the state Capitol. She said she was "astounded" when the Legislature opted to ignore the will of the people after a statewide majority voted to create an independent redistricting commission and process.

"The people of Salt Lake County do matter," Weller said. "The people of Utah deserve better."

David Reymann, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the redistricting lawsuit, said Utahns have a constitutional right to fair elections, freedom of association and equal protection under the law. Those principals are "sacrosanct" and should be nonpartisan, he said, but have been violated by the state's voting maps.

He said the lawsuit—filed in Salt Lake District Court—asks that the state's maps be struck down and that new, equitable maps be ordered drawn for the remainder of the decade.

"The Legislature's power is not unlimited," Reymann said. "If it were, those constitutional guarantees would be hollow."

Reymann said the lawsuit focuses on Utah's congressional districts, despite concerns that improper gerrymandering occurred in the maps for state House, Senate and school board. And he added that the plaintiffs' strategy is not to seek an immediate suspension of the voting maps, as has successfully been done in other states ahead of the 2022 midterm elections this fall.

"It's a tragedy that we have to go through one [election] cycle at least with the maps the Legislature has enacted," Reymann said. "But we're looking for a long term solution to this problem."

During his press conference, Cox also said that his office was in the process of working through the 500-plus bills passed during the recent legislative session, including a stringent proposal banning transgender children from participating in school sports. On the final day of the session, Cox told reporters that he would immediately veto that legislation when it arrived at his desk, but he noted Thursday that there is a lag between when bills clear the chambers and when his administration receives them for review.

“We’re just going through the bills in order,” Cox said. “Nothing has changed.”

The governor reiterated his concerns that the transgender athletics bill was altered and approved in the final hours of the legislative session. He said the process was “troubling” and that the language approved by lawmakers anticipated litigation while failing to provide indemnification to school districts and sport organizers.

“It is very likely that this bill will bankrupt the High School Athletics Association,” Cox said. “All this bill does is invite a lawsuit.”

But Cox added that he believes it is critical to “protect” women’s sports from the potential competitive advantages of transgender athletes—an extraordinarily rare circumstance unseen in Utah and largely confined to isolated examples at the collegiate level—and suggested the next steps in the debate would be to watch for guidance from the nation’s courts as they work through myriad legal challenges stemming from athletics similar bans in GOP-led states.

“I’m assuming there will be a Supreme Court decision at some point and that will hopefully help to settle where we are,” he said.

Pin It


About The Author

Benjamin Wood

© 2023 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation