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Supreme Court backs Arizona panel’s right to draw congressional districts

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Posted at 10:52 AM, Jun 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-29 10:52:09-04

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Monday an Arizona state law that designates the power to an independent commission to draw congressional districts, refuting the state’s legislature claim it is the sole responsibility of the lawmakers.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the majority opinion, which was 5-4, with Anthony Kennedy joining the left wing of the court.

“The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have ‘an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people,'” Ginsbewrg writes. “In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representa-tives, not the other way around.'”

In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said this belies the demand there be more democratic accountability.

“Unfortunately, today’s decision will only discourage this democratic method of change. Why go through the hassle of writing a new provision into the Constitution when it is so much easier to write an old one out?” Roberts writes.

It was in 2000, that Arizona voters voted to remove the congressional redistricting authority from the legislature and vest it in the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) through a ballot initiative.

Several states have come up with similar innovations hoping to reduce partisan gerrymander.

Under the process in Arizona, five members of the IRC are chosen every ten years and selected by both parties. The governor is able to remove a commissioner for substantial neglect of duty.

The Arizona State Legislature challenged the initiative, arguing it violated the Elections Clause of the Constitution which says in part that the “times, places and manner” of holding elections for Senators and Representatives will be “prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

Paul Clement, a lawyer for the legislature, argued in court papers that it had been “completely divested” of its redistricting power, despite the Constitution’s “straightforward delegation of that power to the Legislature of each state.”

In Court, Clement told the justices, “what we object to is the permanent wresting of authority from the State legislature.”

But on the other side, Seth Waxman, a lawyer for the IRC said that the partisan gerrymander—the drawing of legislative district lines in an effort to “subordinate adherents of one political party” –is “incompatible with fundamental democratic principles.”

“The Constitution does not bar the people from prohibiting partisan gerrymandering and it does not make state legislatures unassailable citadels of privilege when they engage in such gerrymandering,” he argued.

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