The court panel involved in Minnesota’s redistricting process has spelled out the principles that will guide its decisions. An order issued Friday was highly anticipated by political parties looking for the upper hand from new congressional and legislative boundaries. The exercise is designed to come up with districts with equal populations. For the first time, the court says it regards the metropolitan area as 11 counties, not seven. That matters because more exurban counties could be tied into districts in suburban and urban areas. Republicans favored that approach. But Democrats won assurances from the court that “communities of interest” – those with geographic, cultural or ethnic similarities – would be preserved where possible. The court says it wants to avoid maps with “undue incumbent protection or excessive incumbent conflicts.” The maps aren’t expected to be completed before late February.