The U.S. Supreme Court, on Tuesday, agreed to hear the case involving the legislative districts drawn by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Committee (IRC). On Monday, the justices found in favor of the IRC as to its constitutionality.
At issue in the legislative district case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, is the allegation that the IRC used race and partisanship in crafting state legislative district boundaries.
As part of its final round of regular orders, the Court agreed to hear five cases in total, which will be heard in the new term starting in October.
On Monday, Justice Roberts acknowledged the lack of independence in his dissent in Arizona State Legislature V. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Et Al. He wrote, “The majority largely ignores this evidence, relying instead on disconnected observations about direct democracy, a contorted interpretation of an irrelevant statute, and naked appeals to public policy. Nowhere does the majority explain how a constitutional provision that vests redistricting authority in “the Legislature” permits a State to wholly exclude “the Legislature” from redistricting. Arizona’s Commission might be a noble endeavor— although it does not seem so “independent” in practice— but the “fact that a given law or procedure is efficient, convenient, and useful . . . will not save it if it is contrary to the Constitution.” INS v. Chadha, 462 U. S. 919, 944 (1983). No matter how concerned we may be about partisanship in redistricting, this Court has no power to gerrymander the Constitution.”
According to Lyle Denniston, “The new election law case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, was apparently held inactive on the Court’s docket until it ruled on a claim by the state legislature that it was unconstitutional to hand the congressional redistricting task to an independent agency not elected by the people.”
Arizona voters filed suit arguing that while both the U.S. and Arizona Constitution require that legislative districts be equal in population, or as nearly equal as practicable, the legislative districts created by the IRC are unjustifiably unequal.
Plaintiffs claimed that more than half the districts are “over-populated” and virtually all of the rest are “under-populated.” Although limited deviations can be tolerated if based on legitimate reasons, the extent of these deviations alone should render the district boundaries illegal.
In the current maps, almost every district that leans Republican is over-populated, or “packed” with Republican voters and, in some cases, significantly so. Almost every single district that leans Democratic is under-populated. The maps were just approved by the DOJ.
The challenged maps give Democrats an advantage, despite them being far outnumbered in registration numbers across the State by Republicans and Independents.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that it is the IRC’s pattern of overpopulating some districts and under-populating others proves the IRC operated with an improper partisan bias, flagrantly violated its legal obligation to be “independent,” and intentionally violated the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions.
The effect of over-populating districts and under-populating districts is that voters in under-populated districts have more voting strength than in the over populated districts.
The suit alleged that this pattern violates the equal protection clause of the U.S Constitution, the “one man one vote” rulings of the United States Supreme Court, and the requirements of the Arizona Constitution. And, the U.S. Supreme Court has already found this type of partisan overpopulating and under-populating of districts unconstitutional in Larios v. Cox.
Arizona State Representative Bob Thorpe stated, “It is bittersweet news to hear that SCOTUS is willing to hear Arizona’s second IRC case. Based upon the activist court’s recent decisions, I certainly will not be holding my breath while waiting for an impartial outcome. The majority opinion in the first case sounded more like a New York Times editorial than unbiased justice, where they suggested (without any evidence) that Arizona’s representative Legislature is somehow untrustworthy in drawing fair district boundaries. If Arizona continues with the IRC, the commission needs to be fully accountable to the voters in order to put an end to the unethical, non-independent gerrymandering practice of their five-member board. Arizona voters must insist on ‘No redistricting without representation!'”