Arizona’s Redistricting Body Faces New SCOTUS Summons

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The independent commission that handles redistricting in Arizona must return to the U.S. Supreme Court next term to defend the maps it drew, the justices said Tuesday, one day after confirming its existence.
     Voters created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission through Proposition 106 in 2000 as a means of reducing the problem of gerrymandering. The ballot initiative removes state and federal congressional redistricting authority from the Legislature and vests it in the independent commission.
     To further minimize partisanship, no holders of public office may sit on the commission, nor can candidates, and no more than two members of the five-person commission can represent the same political party. The fifth member, who serves as chair, may not be registered with any party already on the commission.
     With the U.S. Supreme Court having just extinguished the Arizona Legislature’s challenge to the commission’s existence Monday, the justices agreed Tuesday to take up a case in which voters led by Wesley Harris claim that a map that the commission drew for state legislative districts contained underpopulated Democrat-leaning districts and overpopulated Republican-leaning districts for partisan reasons.
     Based on the 2010 census, the map in question took effect in 2012.
     Ironically, Harris’ 2012 complaint was filed the same year that Republicans brought their own action, claiming that the maps were partisan against them.
     A three-judge panel that considered the Harris challenge found last year that the population deviations were primarily a result of good-faith efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
     Partisanship did play some role in the design of the map, the judges conceded, but not enough to sustain a 14th Amendment challenge.
     “Plaintiffs have not carried their burden to demonstrate that partisanship predominated over legitimate factors,” the 55-page decision states.
     The judges found that one commissioner’s change to the map did cause a small decrease in deviation in one district and small increases in deviation in three districts.
     “While there is some increase in deviation that can be attributed in part to partisanship, it is not a particularly large increase,” the decision states.
     The judges concluded that the deviations at issue were small and that “legitimate efforts to achieve preclearance also drove the decision.”
     As such, “plaintiffs have not proved that partisanship predominated over legitimate reasons for the commission as a whole,” the court found.
     “We have concluded that compliance with the Voting Rights Act is a legitimate state policy that can justify minor population deviations, that the deviations in the map in large part resulted from this goal, and that plaintiffs have failed to show that other, illegitimate motivations predominated over the preclearance motivation,” the ruling concluded.
     Per its custom the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment in noting probable jurisdiction Tuesday over Harris’ appeal.

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