Updated May 9 at 8:16 p.m.
A federal judge Monday struck down the boundaries of Boston’s latest voting map, siding with critics who argued that race was improperly considered above other factors during the map making process.
The ruling comes as potential candidates for the City Council pull paperwork and collect signatures in hopes of appearing on the ballot.
In a statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the administration is reviewing options to: extend filing deadlines, address changes to district boundaries and treat nomination papers that have already been submitted.
"The City will seek to extend timelines for filing nomination papers and otherwise modify processes to ensure that potential candidates for the office of District City Council have an opportunity to run despite any unexpected changes as district lines are redrawn. Potential candidates should continue to file nomination papers at the Boston Elections Department," said spokesperson Ricardo Patrón.
"The City is committed to a speedy and smooth resolution to redistricting and to a clear and transparent election process."
The now-barred map, approved by a majority of councilors last fall, made the bulk of its changes to boundaries that define who votes in Dorchester and South Boston, two sections of the city long considered strongholds of white political power.
In one particularly contentious move, the council removed a section of white, high-turnout voters from one Dorchester voting district into another, majority Black one.
Attorneys for the defendants, including the City Council, claimed the move was made to both strengthen the opportunity for voters of color to elect their preferred candidates and avoid a potential Voting Rights Act violation by keeping too many Black voters in one district.
“After a review of the record, I find that Plaintiffs have met their burden of proving a likelihood of success on their claim that a majority of Councilors relied on race as the predominant consideration in drawing the boundaries between Districts 3 and 4,” Judge Patti B. Saris said referencing the contentious movement of voters.
In her 43-page ruling, Saris went on to say that the City Council “acted in good faith in trying to comply with complex voting rights laws and “is best positioned” to lead a second attempt to redraw lines of the cities nine voting districts according to new population counts from the latest U.S. Census.
Despite that good faith, the judge found that the council subordinated race-neutral principles, like compactness, contiguity and respect for existing communities of interest, to racial considerations. According to the legal standards that guide map evaluation, racial considerations can only predominate the process when the map-making body can prove that its race-based sorting is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest.
“Because the City Council has failed to produce a ‘strong basis in evidence’ of a VRA violation to justify” the banned map’s redrawn district boundaries, Saris wrote, “it cannot demonstrate that the enacted map was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest.”
Glen Hannington, one of three attorneys for those challenging the map, praised the decision.
“I think it holds all elected officials accountable, you just can’t be doing things against the Constitution,” he said.
“We felt going in that we had the evidence…through the City Council’s own videos of the meetings and the things that they were saying really using race as the issue, primarily. It was very flagrant.”
Two who opposed the maps publicly declared the ruling a triumph.
“Judge Saris’ ruling today is a victory for transparency, accountability and the people of the City of Boston,” said At-Large Councilor Erin Murphy. “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.”
Councilor Frank Baker, who represents District 3 where white voters were removed from under the now-banned map, said in a statement the decision supported his “long-held belief that [the banned 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.”
Council President Ed Flynn, who last year called for an independent panel to draw new voting boundaries, said in a statement it is critical that the council “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."
Flynn’s office did not respond to a request for comment about renewing calls for an independent redistricting panel.
Updated: An earlier version of this story identified At-Large Councilor Erin Murphy as a freshman. She was seated as an at-large councilor in December 2021 to finish the term vacated by Mayor Michelle Wu.