U.S. Supreme Court

Arizona's independent redistricting commission doesn't violate elections clause, Supreme Court rules

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The U.S Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that Arizona may use a voter-approved independent commission to draw congressional district boundaries.

The commissions are permissible under the elections clause and federal law, the Supreme Court said. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion (PDF).

Voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the commission in a 2000 ballot measure known as Proposition 106. The measure amended the Arizona Constitution to remove congressional redistricting authority from the state legislature and vest it with the commission. The goal was to address the problem of partisan gerrrymandering.

Two commission members are appointed appointed by Democrats in the state legislature, two members are appointed by Republicans, and a fifth member is chosen by the four other members.

The Arizona Legislature claimed the reference to “legislature” in the elections clause barred use of an independent commission to draw congressional district lines. The elections clause reads in part: “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.”

Ginsburg’s opinion said the legislature had standing to sue, and then found no constitutional impediment to the voter-created commissions. “The framers may not have imagined the modern initia­tive process in which the people of a state exercise legisla­tive power coextensive with the authority of an institu­tional legislature,” Ginsburg wrote. “But the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power.”

When Arizona voters used the initiative process to create the commissions, they sought to restore the core principal of republican government that voters should choose their representatives, Ginsburg said. “The elections clause does not hinder that endeavor.”

Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Roberts’ opinion began with a reference to Arizona’s ratification of the 17th Amendment transferring power to choose U.S. senators from the legislature of each state to “the people thereof,” part of an “arduous, decades-long campaign” to gain approval.

“What chumps!” Roberts wrote. “Didn’t they realize that all they had to do was interpret the constitutional term ‘the Legislature’ to mean ‘the people’? The court today performs just such a magic trick with the elections clause.”

The case is Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

Related article:

ABAJournal.com: “Is voter-created redistricting commission constitutional? SCOTUS will consider the issue”

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