A judicial panel split down partisan lines sided with Democrats on Wednesday and threw out an Indianapolis City-County Council redistricting plan approved by the council's former GOP majority and signed into law by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard.
The Marion Superior Court panel of three Democratic judges and two Republicans ruled 3-2 that the redistricting plan was improper under Indiana law because the council drew the districts in late 2011 before a Democratic-majority council took office in 2012. A state law that applies specifically to Indianapolis says the council must redraw the district boundaries during the second year after a census, which last was conducted in 2010.
The court's majority opinion says the court now will draw new district boundaries, a step allowed by state law once the court has found the council failed to pass a proper redistricting plan.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard signed the current district plan into law on Jan. 1, 2012, but the three Democratic judges said the framework for the redistricting plan was created too early under the law.
An Indiana statute for Marion County says council members must redraw district boundaries during the second year after the census. The census took place in 2010, which means the boundaries should have been redrawn in 2012. Ballard contends he met that requirement by signing the plan in 2012.
“This decision represents the beginning of what we anticipated will be a multi-review process," Ballard said in a prepared statement. "We are respectful of the judicial process and will reserve comments on the merits until the final determination is made.”
The law allows for a direct appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court. The court also intervened in 2003 after Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over redistricting and drew the most recent council district boundaries.
Any new redistricting plan would be used for the first time in the 2015 municipal election.
Three council Democrats had sued in February to get the redistricting plan thrown out.
After the Democratic majority council was seated in January 2012, Democrats drafted a new redistricting plan and approved it along party lines late last year. Ballard vetoed it.