Republicans just can’t catch a break, can they? The Supreme Court has issued yet another ruling that they aren’t going to be happy with, at least, not at the state level. The state of Arizona created an independent commission to draw congressional, and state legislative, district lines. This helps to remove the partiality of the state legislature, and will eliminate a lot of the gerrymandering that makes so many districts “safe” for one party or the other in each election. Arizona’s legislature didn’t like that, and the case went to court.
According to MSNBC, the decision upholds both Arizona’s commission, and very likely California’s. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the majority opinion, said the following:
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.’ In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government, namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’
The basis for that ruling, according to the Washington Post, is the core idea behind our entire system of government, which is that power is supposed to reside with the people, not with the lawmakers. Gerrymandering helps to ensure that elected lawmakers remain elected for as long as they want, and that their party holds that district for a very long time. Politicians no longer fear the people, as they should in a country like ours.
The independent commission was voted into existence way back in 2000, through a ballot initiative. The state legislature was unhappy with the map that the commission drew, and disputed it. The heart of the issue is the Elections Clause in Article 1 of the Constitution, which implies that drawing districts is to be done by the state legislatures, as is all lawmaking. However, many states allow the voters to make laws themselves through referendum. By putting something directly on a ballot, and having voters decide it, the voters circumvent the legislative process altogether. This practice is not considered a Constitutional violation at this time.
That’s the rationale behind the majority opinion in this case. The Post says that Chief Justice Roberts wrote the dissent, where he said that the Supreme Court can’t “gerrymander the Constitution.” Justices Scalia and Thomas would have ruled that the case be dismissed as a matter not in the courts’ jurisdictions.
The Court has long recognized that gerrymandering is a problem, but has stayed away from these cases because they couldn’t agree on a good test for lower courts to use to determine whether illegal gerrymandering has occurred. This doesn’t change that precedent, but it does pave the way for more state electorates to create independent commissions to redraw districts.
Gerrymandering is a huge problem. Nobody elected to either state or federal office should be able to consider their district “safe,” let alone a political party trying to hold onto power there. That takes governing away from the people. As MSNBC put it at the end of their story:
Recent years have underscored how having partisan lawmakers control the redistricting process can allow gerrymandering to a degree that threatens the democratic legitimacy of our political system. After the 2010 Census, Republicans drew congressional districts to their party’s advantage in several big states that they controlled, including Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. As a result, though Democrats won an estimated 1.37 million more votes than Republicans in the 2012 congressional races, they came away with just 46% of House seats. Democrats also have used the redistricting process to their advantage, most notably in California.
Too bad there’s nothing yet that might make the Supreme Court overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon. Those decisions took away the voice of the people, too.
Featured image by Daderot. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons