CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Ross Miller and Republican and Democratic Party lawyers on Wednesday to prepare legal briefs on whether the courts should redistrict congressional and legislative districts.
In the order, justices noted it is the "mandatory duty" under the state constitution for the Legislature to redraw district boundaries after each federal census.
They noted that supreme courts in some states have ordered legislatures into special sessions to complete redistricting matters, suggesting that could be their option, too.
Justices also said they will hold a special Nov. 14 hearing to listen to redistricting arguments.
Gov. Brian Sandoval in the spring twice vetoed Democrat-passed redistricting bills on the grounds that they did not create a majority Hispanic congressional district or 12 majority Hispanic legislative districts.
The Legislature adjourned June 7 without agreeing on a redistricting plan. Even before adjournment, lawsuits were filed by Republican and Democratic lawyers, and redistricting matters fell to Carson City District Judge James T. Russell.
Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the court's move toward interceding in redistricting is a good reason why Sandoval should call the Legislature into special session to finish its redistricting job.
"At the end of the day, the Legislature has to adopt the redistricting maps," said Goicoechea, who handled redistricting matters for Assembly Republicans.
"It's our duty. Legislative leaders need to sit down and come up with a plan we can live with. Then the governor calls a special session, and we pass it in an afternoon."
Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, declined comment on what steps the Legislature should take.
"It's up to a lot more people than me," added Segerblom, who handled redistricting matters for Assembly Democrats.
Sandoval said he would not call the Legislature into a special session because he believes the issue is being adequately addressed in Russell's court.
Russell has ordered a three-member panel of special masters to hold public hearings next week and create redistricting maps by Oct. 21. Russell will decide Nov. 16 to accept or request changes in their maps.
But Miller, the state's chief election officer, on Monday petitioned the court to order Russell to answer several legal questions before the special masters start deliberations. The most prominent question he wants answered is whether the panel should create majority Hispanic districts.
Miller also asked the Supreme Court to intercede because he is concerned redistricting might not be completed before candidates start filing in March for positions up for election in 2012.
But the response Wednesday by Chief Justice Nancy Saitta and the six other justices went far beyond Miller's requests.
The court wants lawyers to prepare legal arguments on whether a panel of special masters legally can redistrict legislative and congressional districts.
The justices also want lawyers' views on whether it is a matter for state courts.
And by noting other states have been called back into session by courts to finish redistricting, the justices are implicitly suggesting that could be their option, too.
As it is now, however, only a governor can call the Legislature into special session. He also can dictate the agenda of special sessions.
The special masters named by Russell are Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas lawyer Thomas Sheets and Bob Erickson, former research director for the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
Panelists will hold a 9:30 a.m. Monday public hearing on redistricting on the fourth floor of the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, followed by a 9:30 a.m. Tuesday hearing in the Legislative Building in Carson City.
The public is invited to participate in the hearings.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.