Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best Monday in quite some time: SCOTUS finds in favor of Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

For the majority opinion in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: Arizona voters sought to restore "the core principle of republican government," namely, "that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around." Imagine what would have gone down had the ruling ended the other way.

Quotes that follow are from the full SCOTUS opinion.

In the matter of the AIRC, it boils down to this finding favoring AIRC.

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." The Federalist No. 57, at 350 (J. Madison). 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." Berman, Managing Gerrymandering, 83 Texas L. Rev. 781 (2005). The Elections Clause does not hinder that endeavor.
For the reasons stated, the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona is

SCOTUS allowed that the AZ Lege has standing, but that AIRC can perform redistricting

We now affirm the District Court’s judgment. We hold, first, that the Arizona Legislature, having lost authority to draw congressional districts, has standing to contest the constitutionality of Proposition 106. Next, we hold that lawmaking power in Arizona includes the initiative process, and that both §2a(c) and the Elections Clause permit use of the AIRC in congressional districting in the same way the Commission is used in districting for Arizona’s own Legislature.

Justice Ginsberg argued that independent commissions like the AIRC act against the Lege's inherent conflict of interest when it tries to control the redistricting so as to keep its members in office.

Independent redistricting commissions, it is true, "have not eliminated the inevitable partisan suspicions associ- ated with political line-drawing." Cain, 121 Yale L. J., at 1808. But "they have succeeded to a great degree [in limiting the conflict of interest implicit in legislative control over redistricting]." Ibid. They thus impede legislators from choosing their voters instead of facilitating the voters’ choice of their representatives.

... the legislature’s responsiveness to the people its members represent is hardly heightened when the representative body can be confident that what it does will not be over turned or modified by the voters themselves.

Moreover, granting the AZ Lege's arguments would have far-reaching effects on other laws enacted by people's initiatives.

Banning lawmaking by initiative to direct a State’s method of apportioning congressional districts would do more than stymie attempts to curb partisan gerrymandering, by which the majority in the legislature draws district lines to their party’s advantage. It would also cast doubt on numerous other election laws adopted by the initiative method of legislating.

The list of endangered state elections laws, were we to sustain the position of the Arizona Legislature, would not stop with popular initiatives. Almost all state constitutions were adopted by conventions and ratified by voters at the ballot box, without involvement or approval by "the Legislature."

Here are similar observations from Daily Kos.

While this case only concerns Congress and only immediately impacts Arizona, a ruling for the plaintiffs would have had explosive implications for ballot initiatives and direct democracy. More frighteningly, taken to its logical extreme, such a ruling may have even removed the ability of governors to veto redistricting legislation, since governors are not literally a part of the legislature. That would have destroyed Democrats' ability to block future GOP gerrymandering because it is far easier to win gubernatorial elections in states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin than it is to capture their already gerrymandered legislatures (whose district lines were drawn by Republicans, of course).

Had the ruling gone the other way, it might have kept Democrats out of the House for a very long time, which underscores just how big of a victory this is for reform advocates. It is now up to activists to organize new ballot measures in more states to combat the current gross distortion of gerrymandering.

Here is another review of the stakes in the AZ lege lawsuit against AIRC, this one from WGCU, an NPR/PBS affiliate in Florida. Why Florida? My Google Alert service snagged it. The more profound reason is that a ruling against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission would have had an effect on many states other than the ones we hear most about (e.g., California). This must have influenced the majority opinion.

California also adopted an independent redistricting commission thanks to a 2008 statewide referendum. Their commission included 14 members — five Democrats, five Republicans and four members from neither party. According to election law professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine, who runs ElectionLawBlog.org, further legal action would likely have to be taken for California's to be struck down, too.

That could be the case for other states that have commissions involved in their redistricting process, too. According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, five states — Hawaii, Montana, Idaho, Washington and New Jersey — legislators appoint at least some of the commission members, but aren't involved in drawing district lines. In Indiana and Connecticut, backup commissions draw maps if the legislature deadlocks on how to redraw lines.

And in Iowa, Maine and New York, commissions submit maps to legislatures for approval, while in Ohio the commission helps the legislature with the lines.

How expansive or narrow the ruling on Monday is could impact some or all of these states as well — up to as many as 152 districts.

Thinking more broadly, the stakes were/are even higher.

If the ruling is more expansive and endangers other states' advisory commissions too, additional legal action could come, too. But for many legal scholars and good-government groups, the biggest fear is that if the court strikes down Arizona's commission, it could be a death blow to hopes of removing politics and gerrymandering from the redistricting process.

Death is forever. But that did not happen.

Don't be ashamed to have been nervous, uneasy, anxious, afraid. I was.

Don't be ashamed to have predicted the opposite ruling. I did.

Instead flood your mind with joy for our democracy surviving a horrible challenge.

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