SCOTUS: Arizona Ruling Upholds Initiative

July 1, 2015 — The US Supreme Court released their long-awaited ruling on the Arizona redistricting case on Tuesday. In a common 5-4 decision, the high court allowed the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) to stand and, as a result, similar commissions in other multi-district states (California, New Jersey, Washington) have affirmed legitimacy. The practical result is that congressional districts in these aforementioned places will stay intact for the remainder of the decade.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority. Her final two sections illuminate the crux of the ruling (see below), that the initiative process allowing the voters to decide legislative issues is the major tenet of this case and not just the Arizona redistricting circumstance.

The Arizona Legislature brought the suit, and the SCOTUS decision affirmed that the body had legal standing to bring such action. Their argument was that the US Constitution gave exclusive power to the state legislature to redistrict post reapportionment.

Justice Ginsburg’s final key points follow:

(3) The Framers may not have imagined the modern initiative process in which the people’s legislative power is coextensive with the state legislature’s authority, but the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power. It would thus be perverse to interpret “Legislature” in the Elections Clause to exclude lawmaking by the people, particularly when such lawmaking is intended to advance the prospect that Members of Congress will in fact be “chosen . . . by the People of the several States,” Art. I, §2. Pp. 30–33.

(4) Banning lawmaking by initiative to direct a State’s method of apportioning congressional districts would not just stymie attempts to curb gerrymandering. It would also cast doubt on numerous other time, place, and manner regulations governing federal elections that States have adopted by the initiative method. As well, it could endanger election provisions in state constitutions adopted by conventions and ratified by voters at the ballot box, without involvement or approval by “the Legislature.”

The Arizona law calls for two Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent to serve on the redistricting commission. The Independent member becomes chairman. Republicans claimed that the last selection process was rigged because the Independent chairman was a former Democrat, an element that should have disqualified her under the membership requirement criteria.

The 2011 AIRC created a map that originally elected five Democrats and four Republicans in a state that has a traditional Republican voting history. In the 2014 elections, the GOP reversed the majority margin. Under a legislature-drawn plan, Republicans would likely have improved their standing to 6R-3D, if not 7R-2D.

Possibly, in anticipation of the legislature winning the Supreme Court ruling, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) in May announced her Senate candidacy. Many believed her move was geared to blocking Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9) from entering the statewide race. Rep. Kirkpatrick, after yesterday’s ruling was announced, confirmed that she will stay in the Senate race.

Rep. Sinema, who would likely have seen her south Phoenix district broken apart under a new legislative plan, now can seek re-election, thus making her Senate challenge against Kirkpatrick much less probable.

Even though the Arizona Republicans lost the ruling, the short-term effects may actually help the national party. Ironically, even under the AIRC map the GOP could conceivably win a 6R-3D split in the 2016 elections. If they can convert Kirkpatrick’s marginal district and re-elect Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ-2) in the Tucson suburban seat, such will be the party division.

The Republicans also benefit from not having the California, New Jersey, and Washington maps changed. It is likely the Democrats would gain seats in these three states under new congressional plans.

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