Supreme Court Rejects Arizona Legislators’ Bid to Defy Citizens’ Will and Regain Ability to Gerrymander Districts

Today in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the United States Supreme Court upheld an Arizona state constitutional amendment passed by voters giving an independent commission responsibility for the state’s redistricting.  The law was challenged by the Arizona State Legislature, which the amendment stripped of its redistricting responsibilities after a series of blatantly extreme political gerrymanders.  The Legal Center, along with other groups advocating representative democracy, filed an amici brief in the Supreme Court in support of the constitutionality of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission.

“Today’s decision is a victory for representative democracy and a sharp rebuke to the Arizona legislators who sued to overturn the popular will of the state’s citizens in order to regain their ability to handpick their constituents and safeguard their seats through blatant political gerrymanders,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director.  “Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that Members of Congress will be chosen ‘by the People of the several States,’ not that Members of Congress will handpick the constituents most likely to reelect them.  It is outrageous that the Arizona State Legislature had the audacity to challenge the clear will of the citizens of its own state in order to regain the power to gerrymander.  We are pleased that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of voters over their elected officials, but disappointed to see four Justices willing to deny voters a fair chance to choose their own representatives.”

The challenge was brought under the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “[t]he times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”  In February 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that when voters acted to amend the state's constitution and create the commission, they were acting in the capacity of the Legislature.

A court victory by the Arizona Legislature would inevitably have prompted lawsuits challenging a number of similar state redistricting commissions, most notably California’s.  Redistricting commissions in a number of states were created by the legislatures, but in California voters passed a similar state constitutional amendment in the face of stiff opposition from political party officials and state legislative leaders. 

The groups joining in the brief in support of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission included the Campaign Legal Center, the League of Women Voters of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations, Common Cause and Democracy 21.  The Campaign Legal Center gratefully acknowledges the work of Paul M. Smith, Jessica Ring Amunson and other attorneys of Jenner & Block LLP.

To read the opinion, click here.

To read the brief filed by the Legal Center and other groups, click here.