Following gender lines

Two Southwest Minneapolis lawyers enter redistricting fray arguing for fairness for women incumbents

Lynnhurst resident Andrea Rubenstein and Kingfield resident Elizabeth Glidden say that no matter which redistricting plan you look at -- Republican, Democrat or Independence -- they all disproportionately hurt women lawmakers.

The two lawyers are trying their hand at directly influencing the state's electoral map.

Rubenstein and Glidden -- attorneys with the Stevens Square-based civil rights and employment law firm of Hedin & Goldberg -- filed a brief on behalf of the Minnesota.

Women's Campaign Fund with the Special Redistricting Panel. The Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund promotes and supports participants of women in the political process -- particularly candidates supporting abortion rights.

The state Legislature was unable to agree upon a redistricting plan. The Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a five-judge panel to work out new political boundaries, and the panel is getting advice from all sides.

Neither Rubenstein nor Glidden made any money writing the brief. It was strictly a pro bono endeavor that kept both busy for a better part of two weeks, working under a tight deadline.

"I was sitting there with a highlighter outlining the maps in the last hour or two before we had to run it down and file it," Glidden said.

For Rubenstein and Glidden, delving into redistricting law proved a huge change of pace from their daily work. The four-person firm specializes in plaintiff's employment law, typically representing employees suing current or past employers.

"We were using our experience in looking at issues of discrimination, so on that level we were familiar with those types of arguments," Glidden said.

Wagenius and Ranum affected The Amicus Curiae ("Friend of the Court") brief supports equal treatment and opportunities for women in the political process, arguing the state should not support gender discrimination.

Rubenstein and Glidden said they found the four existing redistricting plans hurt women lawmakers in one of several key ways. They put them in political territory that favors another party. Or they added significant new territory to their district, which creates additional work to campaign. Or they redrew district boundaries to pit two incumbents against each other, referred to as "pairing."

The current redistricting proposals affect two Southwest Minneapolis women lawmakers.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, whose current district includes an area south and southeast of Lake Harriet, would find herself paired with another lawmaker and running in much new suburban territory under all four plans. For instance, under the Cotlow plan, she would run against Rep. Ron Erhardt, an Edina Republican.

Sen. Jane Ranum, whose larger Senate district comprises Wagenius' territory and much of the area around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, would find herself paired and running in much new territory under the Moe and Zachman redistricting plans.

"It would be more difficult for both of them to run," Glidden said. "Of course there's going to be pairings. What we were looking at is, proportionately, how many pairings would be able to affect women -- looking at their percentage in the senate and the house vs. how many would affect men," Glidden said.

Not seeking 'special protection' Under all of the plans, a greater percentage of women lawmakers face pairing, new territory or politically unsafe territory than their male counterparts, the brief states. Rubenstein and Glidden argue women deserve equal treatment and opportunities in the political process.

"Our hope was that the court would look at our anecdotal evidence, look at these ways that women can be disadvantaged, and take that into account when you're drawing the final plan to ensure women are not put at a greater disadvantage or unduly burdened when you're drawing the lines," Glidden said.

"It's not to say that every woman incumbent is protected, and that's not what we're asking and that's not what the court can do or should do."

The redistricting process is supposed to look blindly on incumbent interests, Rubenstein said. In practice, however, incumbent interests do get considered as a matter of fairness.

The brief doesn't suggest how boundaries should be drawn, but raises issues for the redistricting panel to consider as the task is undertaken, Rubenstein said.

"That's very important -- that we're not asking special protection," Glidden said. "Because I think people become very sensitive if they see that sort of flavor to it. That's not what this is about.

"By putting this information out there, at least it could become part of the general conversation about redistricting," she said.

Uncharted waters Rubenstein connected with the Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund while attending one of the redistricting hearings as an interested citizen.

"It seemed there had to be a better way for women to comment on the plans, because the authors of the plans had not looked at it from this angle at all," Rubenstein said.

The brief headed into uncharted territory as Rubenstein couldn't find anything in her legal research to suggest this argument had been made before -- other than a brief argument she had previously contributed to a DFL court brief in the 1992 redistricting process.

Despite her own political leanings (Rubenstein has been a delegate to local DFL conventions), she said the current brief was not a partisan undertaking.

Glidden said she felt lucky that Rubenstein asked her to get involved. "I learned so much. I got to meet some legislators -- people who were affected by the plan," she said.

"I know the names of alot of the people now. When you do that you recognize a lot more when you see them in the newspaper or when you yourself are interested in issues and want to make sure your voice is heard," Glidden said. "I am a lot more interested in local politics than I ever was."