Robert Frost reportedly said, “You go on the court to play tennis, not to see if the lines are straight.”
That doesn’t mean that straight lines are unimportant. They serve a purpose. And in one Nevada court, the lines are not one bit straight.
It’s the court of State District Judge Todd Russell. He is racing ahead trying to complete a new legislative redistricting plan for both the Nevada Legislature and for the state’s U.S. House seats before other courts can act in hopes that if he gets the plan finished, other players will be too weary or timid to overrule him.
Judge Russell has no authority for do what he is doing, and failure by the Legislature does not empower him. The Nevada Constitution could not be more clear: “It shall be the mandatory duty of the Legislature at its first session after the taking of the decennial census of the United States in the year 1950, and after each subsequent decennial census, to fix by law the number of Senators and Assemblymen, and apportion them among the several counties of the State, or among legislative districts which may be established by law, according to the number of inhabitants in them, respectively.”
Note that Judge Russell is nowhere mentioned. Neither he nor any other judge has a role in redistricting until after the Legislature passes its plan and the courts get a chance to assess the validity. As for U.S. House seats, the U.S. Constitution requires that the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof …” Judge Russell’s name is missing there, too. An oversight by the Founders, no doubt.
Nevertheless, Russell used a court proceeding of limited scope to hijack the power of a separate branch of government.
Those constitutional clauses are not suggestions. They are not just pointless legalese. They are the lines on the court. Staying inside of them is part of what makes this nation a democracy. Officials cannot just cross those lines and usurp the roles of other players. It’s called the separation of powers. It’s law—constitutional law.
Who will uphold the law if a judge ignores it?
The Nevada Supreme Court put a shot across Russell’s bow to let him know he had wandered off his territory, and he ignored the warning.
This is not just a normal case of a judge being wrong. It involves bad judgment, bad decisions, bad law.
The reckless Carson City judge is out of control and must be curbed. But just settling the redistricting plan is not enough. The Nevada Supreme Court should not just overrule Russell. It should reprimand him for judicial arrogance and politicizing the judiciary.