Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SCOTUS agrees to hear challenge to AZ redistricting map

Here is the short version from TheHill.com.

The case was brought by a group of Republican Arizona voters who charged that the redistricting commission packed white GOP voters into over-populated districts to give minorities an advantage in Democratic districts. They claim the redistricting violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s one-person, one-vote principle.

The commission's map created a number of heavily Hispanic districts using 2012 census numbers for the 2012 election.

The lower court backed the commission, which argued it was trying to comply with the Voting Rights Act when drawing the district lines. The commission contended that they had to show that the new lines didn't diminish the ability of minority groups to elect candidates of their choice to get the DOJ to sign off on the district map, court documents said.

The lower court found that while the commission may have been trying to boost Democratic prospects in some districts, they were primarily trying to win DOJ approval for the map.

The court is now being asked to decide if the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission correctly used race and political party affiliations to create the Hispanic-heavy districts.

The court will also weigh whether the commission was justified in creating districts that deviate from the one-person, one-vote principle to obtain approval from the Justice Department

Here's the longer story. Howard Fischer reports, via The Daily Star/tucson.com, that the Supreme Court will hear the challenge to the Arizona redistricting map in October.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this morning to take up another challenge to the lines drawn by Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission.

Without comment the justices agreed to review a complaint that the five-member commission violated the law by creating legislative districts of unequal population. More to the point, challengers say that was done largely to give Democrats an unfair advantage.

On the other side, the lower courts ruled not so, and that the AIRC was only making a good faith effort to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

In a ruling last year, however, a the three-judge panel acknowledged that some of the lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission created districts that were larger or smaller in population than others. And they said the evidence shows that "partisanship played some role in the design of the map."

But the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution does not require that legislative districts have precisely equal population. Instead, the judge said, there can be "divergencies'' that are necessary to achieve other goals.

And in this case, they said, that the commission's decision to manipulate the lines was "primarily a result of good-faith efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act" and its prohibitions against diluting minority voting strength, and not primarily to give Democrats a political leg-up.

And that is what Justice Ginsburg noted in her opinion on the challenge to the constitutionality of the AIRC. I guess the question is whether the 5-4 majority can hold together on this challenge to the AIRC's map.

Here is what the Court actually did.

JURISDICTION NOTED
14-232 HARRIS, WESLEY W., ET AL. V. AZ INDEP. COMMISSION, ET AL.
In this case probable jurisdiction is noted.

What does "probable jurisdiction" mean? The best answer I was able to find on the web comes from the Texas Redistricting site.

That’s the Supreme Court’s way of saying it has decided to get briefs and hear oral argument in a direct appeal from a three-judge district court.

Appeals from a decision of a three-judge district court are a little different than your normal appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the normal case, the party seeking to appeal has to file a 'petition for certiorari’ with the court asking the court to take the case. If four justices agree, the court will 'grant cert’ and consider the appeal.

In a direct appeal, a party does not have to ask permission first.

However, the Supreme Court still can decide not to hear an appeal or can decide to affirm the appeal summarily if it decides that the appeal does not present 'substantial’ questions.

When a court notes 'probable jurisdiction’ it is saying it believes the questions likely will be substantial enough and that it wants to get briefs and hear further argument.

This last point is the important one. SCOTUS will hear arguments in its next session.

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