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Supreme Court Upholds Power Of Independent Commissions To Draw Districts

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Supreme Court Upholds Power Of Independent Commissions To Draw Districts

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Redistricting

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the kind of independent redistricting commissions used in Arizona and California to prevent partisan gerrymandering.

The 5-4 decision bolsters an increasingly popular political reform adopted by voters in California and other states to transfer authority to draw districts from state legislators to a nonpartisan citizen panel.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the Constitution gives states broad leeway to decide on their election rules, and states like Arizona and California may rely on “direct democracy” that allows the voters to decide.

“The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering,” she said, and nothing in the Constitution forbids them from making that decision.

The four most conservatives justices dissented.

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts accused the majority of performing a “magic trick” by interpreting the Constitution to allow the people, not the legislature, to set the rules for electing members of Congress.

He agreed with Arizona’s Republican legislature that it should have the exclusive power to decide on districts for members of Congress. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed.

The decision turned on a somewhat obscure provision in the Constitution. It says: “The Times, Places and Manners of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof, but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such regulations.”

Arizona’s voters passed a state constitutional amendment in 2000 to remove the redistricting authority from the state legislature and to turn it over to a new Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

Three years ago, Arizona’s Republican lawmakers sued in federal court seeking to overturn the decision of the voters. They said the Constitution reserved this power to “the Legislature thereof,” and this authority may not be taken away.

Defenders of the commission argued the state’s law-making authority can rest with the people when they pass propositions.

The case of Arizona State Legislature vs. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission called on the high court to resolve a dispute between two parts of the same state’s governing structure.

If the court had struck down the independent commissions, it would have threatened numerous congressional districts in Arizona and California that were drawn by nonpartisan citizen commissions.

In addition, five other states have semi-independent commissions that could have been affected by the ruling: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, and New Jersey.

The decision is a victory for reformers who saw independent commissions as the best weapon to stop politicians from manipulating electoral district lines to protect incumbents or political fiefdoms. Three former California governors — Pete Wilson, George Deukmejian, and Arnold Schwarzenegger — filed a friend-of-the court brief urging the justices to uphold the state’s independent panel.

With 53 members, the California delegation in the House of Representatives, 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans, is the largest in Congress.

In 2008, Californians approved a ballot measure to shift the redistricting power for state Legislature seats to a citizens commission. Two years later, voters approved a second measure to extend its authority to congressional districts.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: North Charleston via Flickr

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6 Comments

  1. JPHALL June 29, 2015

    And it has worked in California. Politicians are now forced to actually represent the voters of their district and not only their party.

    Reply
  2. 1standlastword June 29, 2015

    “In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts accused the majority of
    performing a “magic trick” by interpreting the Constitution to allow the
    people, not the legislature, to set the rules for electing members of
    Congress.”
    **********************************************************************************************
    At first blush the above paragraph effects the mind the way seeing a gorilla behind the wheel of a Hummer driving down the highway at 70mph would shock the senses:

    Shouldn’t the “people” chose the congress verses “congress” choosing the people?!

    _________________________________________________________________

    “He agreed with Arizona’s Republican legislature that it should have
    the exclusive power to decide on districts for members of Congress.
    Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed.”
    **********************************************************************************************
    And now if only the people (the majority) could elect the SCOTUS!!!

    Reply
    1. Independent1 June 30, 2015

      Of course all the clearly right-wing, bought-and-paid-for corrupt SCOTUS judges agreed with Roberts. How else are these scumbags going to repay all the money they’ve gotten from Adelson and the Koch Bros and maybe others; when they’ve been wined and dined in Vegas by these big donors and collected all those under-the-table handouts!!!

      Reply
  3. Grannysmovin June 30, 2015

    Gerrymandering by any political party should be illegal. Only non-partisan commissions should draw the districts.

    Reply
  4. Eleanore Whitaker June 30, 2015

    Whenever I hear about gerrymandering and redistricting games, it reminds me of an old tune, “Oh, the games peoples play….every night and every day.” If you can’t win an election based on the will of the people, perhaps politics isn’t the issue.

    Reply
  5. bobnstuff June 30, 2015

    I live in one of those gerrymandered districts. It’s 75 miles long but less then half a mile wide in places. They wanted my republican votes up north so when everyone around us has a Democrat representing then and a local office I’m stuck with a Republican who doesn’t even know where I am. My district covers parts of the counties.

    Reply

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