The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Arizona Legislature’s challenge to the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission, which redrew state legislative and congressional districts following the 2000 and 2010 census.
The legislature is challenging the commission’s constitutional authority to draw congressional lines. A successful challenge to the commission could have far-reaching impact. It would put at risk redistricting commissions that draw congressional lines in 16 states while creating precedent that threatens the ballot initiative process by limiting the lawmaking function only to elected legislators.
“The initiative process has provided Americans with a direct voice in our democracy for more than a century. If the Court strikes down Arizona voters’ right to create an independent redistricting commission as an alternative to the Legislature drawing the maps, it will set a dangerous precedent that undermines Americans from using direct democracy to enact change when legislators refuse to do so. We urge the Supreme Court to respect the will of Arizona voters by upholding the Independent Redistricting Commission,” stated Kathay Feng, Common Cause National Redistricting Director and author of California’s independent redistricting commission initiative.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 26 states have a ballot initiative or referendum process. Arizona voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission by ballot initiative in 2000. Currently 16 states have commissions that play some role in drawing congressional districts. This includes independent commissions like Arizona’s in addition to politician, advisory, and backup commissions with varying degrees of independence from state legislatures. Arizona law mandates a transparent process by requiring the commission to hold public meetings and hear input from the public before and after the drafting of maps. The Brennan Center for Justice has provided the following breakdown of commissions around the country:
- Independent Commission (6) – AK, AZ, CA, ID, MT, WA (This includes AK and MT, though currently each only has one congressional district)
- Politician Commission (2) – HI, NJ (This does not include AR, CO, MO, PA, which have some sort of commission but only for state redistricting)
- Advisory Commission (6) – IA, ME, NY, OH, RI, VT (This includes VT, though currently it only has one congressional district)
- Backup Commission (2) – CT, IN
Addressing the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in 2011, former Supreme Court Justice and Arizonan Sandra Day O’Connor said: “I think voters sent a special message that we want to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process and create fair representation in our legislative and Congressional districts. The citizens of Arizona have confidence in you that you will draw boundaries that will not favor any particular elected official, political party or special interest.”
The Court will hear oral arguments in early 2015.
Issues: Voting and Elections