Gerrymanding Block in Ariz. Upheld by Justices

     (CN) – A voter-approved effort for an independent commission to handle Arizona redistricting, without partisan input, found 5-4 support Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
     “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,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, writing for the court’s majority. “But the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power. As Madison put it: ‘The genius of republican liberty seems to demand… not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those entrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people.'”
     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.
     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.
     Democrats unsuccessfully challenged the resulting district map soon after the initiative passed, but a decade of Democratic gains led to Republicans doing the same in 2012.
     The Legislature itself sued the commission, as well, claiming that Prop. 106 wrongly “eliminates entirely the Legislature’s prescriptive role in congressional redistricting, and creates a new and extremely limited role.”
     A divided appeals panel dismissed the suit, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari in 2014.
     The legislature’s attorney, Paul Clement, told the Supreme Court at oral argument, “This avowed effort to redelegate districting authority to an unelected and unaccountable commission is plainly repugnant to the Constitution’s vesting of that authority in the legislatures of the states.”
     The U.S. Constitution’s election clause states that “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”
     But Ginsburg noted that many legislative powers – including state redistricting – are delegated to commissions, without similar uproar.
     “Invoking the Elections Clause, the Arizona Legislature instituted this lawsuit to disempower the state’s voters from serving as the legislative power for redistricting purposes,” she wrote. “But the clause surely was not adopted to diminish a state’s authority to determine its own lawmaking processes.”
     “The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that members of Congress would have ‘an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people,'” Ginsburg added. “In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.'”
     The elections clause cannot be read so as to stand in their way, Ginsberg concluded.
     Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Anton Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
     “The court’s position has no basis in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution, and it contradicts precedents from both Congress and this court,” Roberts wrote. “The Constitution contains seventeen provisions referring to the ‘Legislature’ of a state, many of which cannot possibly be read to mean ‘the people.'”
     Yet, the majority achieves this “magic trick” with the Elections Clause in its Monday opinion, Roberts claimed.
     “Arizona’s Commission might be a noble endeavor – although it does not seem so ‘independent’ in practice – but the ‘fact that a given law or procedure is efficient, convenient, and useful … will not save it if it is contrary to the Constitution,'” the dissent continues. “No matter how concerned we may be about partisanship in redistricting, this court has no power to gerrymander the Constitution.”
     Attorney General Loretta Lynch applauded the decision.
     “Arizona’s approach to redistricting is an innovative and effective advance in the effort to reduce gerrymandering and give all Americans an opportunity to make their voices heard,” she said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a victory for the people of Arizona, for the promise of fair and competitive elections and for the principles of democratic self-governance that make our nation exceptional.”

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