Blanding claims its voice is weakened by new boundaries in racial gerrymandering lawsuit

SALT LAKE CITY — The southeastern Utah city of Blanding is arguing that its voice is weakened under new boundaries ordered by a federal judge after a racial gerrymandering lawsuit.

In an amicus filing with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Blanding sides with San Juan County in an appeal over a federal judge’s ruling setting new boundaries and ordering a special election.

The Navajo Nation sued San Juan County, arguing that the boundaries for county commission and school board diluted the vote of Native Americans, who make up a majority population in San Juan County. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby agreed, and ordered new boundaries and a special election this year for those offices.

San Juan County has appealed, seeking to stop the special election even as candidates have signed up to run for the new seats.

In its “friend of the court” brief, Blanding argues that with the new boundaries it has been split up into three different commission districts.

“In preparing his remedial plans, the Special Master failed to maintain the Blanding Community as a community of interest, thereby severely weakening the representation of the Blanding Community in county elections by placing them in the minority in each of the three County Commission districts,” Blanding attorney Blake Hamilton wrote.

Blanding argues that the Navajo Nation was split into two parts and the city of Monticello was kept whole in the new boundaries, but Blanding was split too much.

“United geographically as the largest municipality in the County, the residents of the Blanding Community are isolated from other population centers due to the sparse population and harsh landscape of the County. Although racially and politically diverse, the population of the Blanding Community has developed a unique identity and sense of pride as an independent community,” Hamilton wrote.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering an appeal of the judge’s ruling. No arguments have been scheduled in the case.

Blanding’s arguments are similar to those made by Salt Lake County area voters about the last round of congressional and legislative redistricting. The county was split up into each of the four congressional districts and some claimed Salt Lake City voters’ liberal voice was diluted.

A ballot initiative could be decided by voters in November to create an independent redistricting commission.

Read Blanding’s filing with the 10th Circuit Court here: