Boston redistricting lawsuit now seeking to get map thrown out

The array of South Boston groups opposing the newly approved council redistricting map have sharpened their attack in a new civil complaint, trying to get the final product thrown out on voting-rights grounds as several councilors and other well-known Boston names throw support behind the suit.

The Southie groups, including the Ward 6 Democratic Committee, Old Colony Tenant Association and South Boston Citizens Association can now count former Dorchester district councilor and city clerk Maureen Feeney and local activist Shirley Shillingford of Mission Hill among several new co-plaintiffs as the new amended complaint moves from an unsuccessful attempt to forestall the map’s passage on procedural issues to a direct challenge of its specifics.

Additionally, three city councilors signed in support of this new complaint: President Ed Flynn, of Southie, and At-Large Councilor Erin Murphy and District Councilor Frank Baker, both of Dorchester. All, plus At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty of Southie, voted against the ultimately approved map that Mayor Michelle Wu has since signed into law following a remarkably contentious council process.

Flynn, in his six-page affidavit, said the process “lacked transparency and it was completely flawed.”

The new complaint, filed Tuesday, is looking to achieve two main objectives. The first is for Judge Anthony Campo to approve an injunction stopping the new map from going into effect.

“Because the public did not have broad access to the deliberations and decision-making process of the City Council regarding the redistricting process, Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Honorable Court issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting the implementation of this approved redistricting map (Docket #1275) from taking effect until further order of this Honorable Court,” the plaintiffs wrote.

The next court date is Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. for a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction. Campo already ruled against a pre-vote injunction a month ago, quickly dispatching of the Southie groups’ previous attempt to hit pause over allegations of procedural issues.

Much hay was made about various open-meeting law allegations and other complaints of lack of outreach from people who didn’t like the so-called “Unity” map that Redistricting Chair Liz Breadon and City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo filed and ultimately got passed in a lightly amended form. The plaintiffs in the suit accuse the council of being “laser focused” on approving that map “at any cost.”

The map, which is slated to go into effect for the next municipal election, lops a chunk of southern Dorchester off of Baker’s District 3 and moves it into Redistricting Vice Chair Brian Worrell’s District 4, and takes a piece of Flynn’s District 2 in South Boston and gave that to Baker.

But the initial suit over the open-meeting-law allegations went nowhere fast, and multiple councilors directly rebutted the allegations, saying one instance simply didn’t happen and another was just a press conference, for example.

In the longer term, the suit is looking to get the map thrown out altogether. The plaintiffs cite the federal Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, saying the councilors focused too much on race during the process, going beyond what the VRA requires.

The plaintiffs allege that the council “deliberately diluted the white vote in District 3, while also diluting the African-American vote in District 4 for no valid reason other than their stated purpose of ‘racial balancing.’”

The plaintiffs cite the comments of a redistricting expert who told the body in a hearing that the map that’s been used for the past 10 years doesn’t appear to have any Voting Rights Act issues. Advocates for the map that eventually passed had claimed D4 potentially had “packed” too many Black votes into one district, and that the addition of the largely white precincts around Cedar Grove and Adams Village would both stave off any problem there and make D3 a more “effective” majority-minority “opportunity district.”

Breadon and Arroyo have defended the process and the map itself, saying it had appropriate outreach and that much like how the outside counsel said the in-use map has no VRA issues, he also said the new one didn’t appear on its face to have any, either.

Breadon declined to comment on the changes as the council reviews the suit.

Attorney Glen Hannington, who’s representing the plaintiffs alongside former state Rep. Paul Gagnon, declined to comment further.

The new suit — which runs 23 pages, plus exhibits “A” through “S” — also rehashes an array of gripes that caused arguments on the council, pumping up maps from the councilors the plaintiffs agree with, delving bak into a series of long and circular arguments about official redistricting criteria and principals sand beefs about alleged lack of more public meetings.

City Council President Ed Flynn (Staff Photo By Chris Christo/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)