Independent Redistricting Commissions Here to Stay


The Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s Redistricting Commission in a 5-4 decision ruling that the use of an independent commission to redraw congressional districts is constitutional. Thus, the current maps will remain for the 2016 election.

In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Court considered whether the commission, created by a ballot initiative, fell under the meaning of the work “legislature” in the Elections Clause of the Constitution. The Elections Clause states “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.”


John Ryder, RNC General Counsel and RNLA Vice Chair, notes,


Ginsberg argues that under the Arizona constitution, Initiative and Referendum allow the Legislative Body and the People to share the legislative power.  However, the dissents argue that “Legislature”, as used in the Constitution, means only the state Legislative body, and that fixed meaning does not change through the subsequent adoption of state constitutions, which embrace the Initiative & Referendum process.


Ryder also points out that


Roberts is more of a textualist in this dissent than he has been previously this term. Scalia simply would have avoided the case as a “political question.”  Thomas makes a nice point about the hypocrisy of the majority opinion, which champions state’s rights, coming from the same Justices who trampled on state’s rights in Obergfell.


Ryder highlights the political consequences of the opinion:


He explains all “independent” commissions are here to stay without challenge, such as California’s, and states “it is always the minority in a state that wants a commission. While a commission may not always draft a plan favorable to the minority, it usually can’t be worse for the minority than a legislatively drawn plan.” Other states who may adopt their own commission are Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, and Wisconsin.


Also, concerning the majority’s statement, “The Legislature comprises the referendum and the Governor’s veto . . . ,” Ryder highlights that 


This assertion creates implications for the legislature as the repository of the jurisdiction and the basis for further litigation regarding the role of the governor in the legislative process concerning the context of amendment ratification or presidential elector selection.


Finally, the decision affirms maps drawn in other states through the same process. Other states that use commissions to draw lines with some legislature’s involvement include: Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington.