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AGO 1949 No. 161 - November 17, 1949
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington


Legislature may change boundaries of existing congressional districts.

Precinct changes do not affect boundaries of congressional districts.

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                                                               November 17, 1949

Honorable Corwin P. Shank
State Senator, 46th District
Route 1, Box 344
Kirkland, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 161

Dear Senator Shank:

            This is in answer to your letter of August 23 in which you ask the following questions:

            1.         Under Article XXVII, § 13 of the State Constitution, may the legislature revise the boundaries of congressional districts to meet population shifts as they occur, or only in the event of a new apportionment by Congress?

            2.         What is the effect upon congressional districts of the creation of new precincts in the area north of Seattle, where the districts were designated by statute as consisting of certain named precincts.

            Our conclusions are summarized as follows:

            1. The legislature may revise the boundaries of congressional districts to meet population shifts without a new apportionment by Congress.

            2. The boundaries of congressional districts established by the 1931 act remain the same regardless of split or newly created precincts.


            The power to apportion the state into congressional districts is vested in the legislature by Article XXVII, Section 13.  That section reads:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "One representative in the Congress of the United States shall be elected from the state at large at the first election provided for in this constitution and thereafter at such times and places and in such manner as may be prescribed by law.  When a new apportionment shall be made by Congress the legislature shall divide the state into congressional districts in accordance with such apportionment.  The vote cast for representative in Congress at the first election shall be canvassed and the result determined in the manner provided for by the laws of the territory for the canvas of the votes for delegate in Congress."

            The section specifies the conditions of the first election after statehood and contemplates the transition from a single statewide congressional district to a situation to prevail when a new apportionment should be made.  There is nothing restrictive in the language of the section quoted.  The legislature was directed to divide the state into districts when a new apportionment should supersede the original single district.  The section has unmistakably placed in the hands of the legislature the duty of fixing the congressional districts but has not otherwise limited their power.  Our legislature is a body of plenary power except only as limited by the constitution.  Since there is no limitation in the constitution upon the time when congressional districts may be redesignated, it is our opinion that the legislature may alter the boundaries of its districts whenever it sees fit to do so and need not await any subsequent re apportionment by Congress.

            The answer to your second question may be found in the opinion of ourSupreme Court in State ex rel. Shorett v. Reeves, 25 Wn. (2d) 114, 169 P. (2d) 704, where the court held that the legislature has exclusive right to set the boundaries of congressional districts and subsequent changes in political subdivisions do not alter the boundaries as established by the legislature.  The court said:

            "* * * Manifestly, the legislature intended by the 1931 enactment that the territory embracing the six congressional districts should not be changed by reason of the expansion or contraction of the boundaries of the counties, cities, or precincts.  The congressional districts must continue to embrace the same territory until changed by the power -the legislature -which created them."

            A division or re designation of the precincts referred to in the statutes creating the congressional districts will not alter the districts as established by the legislature.  The reference to certain precincts in the statute is a means of  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] describing the territory which the legislature intended to include in a particular congressional district.  The effect is that regardless of changes in names or boundaries or precincts, the congressional districts will continue to be the territory embraced in the precincts named in the statute as they existed when the legislation was passed.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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