Federal judge throws out new Boston City Council district map, orders the council to make a new one

The lack of a new district map could cause confusion for the upcoming Boston City Council elections.

The Boston City Council redistricting map approved by the council and the mayor last fall has been thrown out by a federal judge. City of Boston

The Boston City Council must come up with a new redistricting map after a federal judge effectively scrapped their original plan Monday via a preliminary injunction, The Boston Globe reported.

Judge Patti Saris ruled that a legal challenge to the map would likely be successful in proving that race played too large a role in the redistricting process, the Globe reported. Her ruling prohibits the city from using the map in its upcoming elections.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success in showing that race played a predominant role in the City Council’s redrawing of Districts 3 and 4 in the enacted map, and Defendants have not demonstrated that the enacted redistricting map is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest,” Saris wrote.

Why the map is controversial

The new district map would have taken several conservative-leaning and majority-white precincts in Dorchester out of District 3 and placed them in District 4, which centers on Mattapan. Similarly, it would have carved out precincts in South Boston and inserted them into District 3.


While supporters of these changes said they were meant to prevent the map from “packing” Black voters into District 4, opponents felt it divided closely connected communities.

The map was approved by the city council and Mayor Michelle Wu last fall, but was opposed by several of the more right-leaning city councilors. Wu, the Boston Election Commission, and the city council were all named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The ruling

While the ruling was a win for the map’s detractors, Saris did not give them everything they wanted.

The Globe reported that Saris granted the preliminary injunction based on the plaintiffs’ assertion that the map violated the 14th Amendment. But Saris also found that they did not make a compelling case that the map was illegal under the Voting Rights Act or the Open Meeting Law.

Secondly, the plaintiffs asked that Saris appoint a special master to create a new map. But the judge wrote that “the City Council is best positioned to redraw the lines in light of traditional districting principles and the Constitution,” the Globe reported. Saris said previously that she would not redraw the map herself.

“The ball is back in the City Council’s court,” Saris declared in the ruling.

The impact of the ruling

With Boston City Council elections set to take place in November, the lack of a new district map could cause a lot of confusion. Candidates cannot be sure of which district they live in, and thus what district they are running to represent.


The fact that the deadline for submitting nomination papers for the city council election is May 23 further complicates matters. Saris said in the ruling that it was unclear if the Boston Election Commission could push back the deadline, the Globe reported.

During court proceedings, the Globe reported, lawyers for the defendants argued that an injunction “would frustrate public reliance on the City Council and cause confusion.”

“The Court does not take these concerns, in addition to administrative and logistical harms, lightly,” Saris reportedly wrote. “However, on balance, constitutional concerns with the enacted map prevail.”

Reactions to the ruling

Centrist Boston City Councilor At-Large Erin Murphy, who has long opposed the map, called the ruling a victory for transparency and accountability in a statement Monday.

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“The United States District Court identified a deeply flawed process, and I welcome the opportunity to join my colleagues in rewriting more equitable voting districts that protect our constituents’ Constitutional rights,” she wrote.

District 3 Councilor Frank Baker, who contributed $10,000 from his campaign fund to support the lawsuit and recently announced that he won’t run for reelection, said in a statement to the Globe that the ruling “supports my long-held belief that this map unfairly robbed District 3 and the citizens of Boston of its voice and was designed to weaken its position in Boston politics.”


“Gerrymandering is gerrymandering — whether in pursuit of progressive or conservative goals,” Baker reportedly said.

City Council President Ed Flynn, who also gave $10,000 to fund the litigation, said in a statement to the Globe that “it is critical that we put our differences aside, come together, and do what’s best for the people of Boston by delivering positive leadership and focusing on long-standing redistricting principles.”

The Globe reported that Mayor Wu’s office said it was still reviewing the ruling, and that other city councilors could not be reached for comment Monday night.


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