The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with liberal members of the court, that using independent commissions to redraw electoral districts is constitutional.
The case stemmed from a challenge of such a commission in Arizona created by a ballot proposition.
In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts called the decision “a magic trick with the Elections Clause.”
“That Clause vests congressional redistricting authority in ‘the Legislature’ of each State,” Roberts wrote. “An Arizona ballot initiative transferred that authority from ‘the Legislature’ to an ‘Independent Redistricting Commission.’ The majority approves this deliberate constitutional evasion by doing what the proponents of the Seventeenth Amendment [direct election of U.S. senators] dared not: revising ‘the Legislature’ to mean ‘the people.’”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the ruling “is an important step in the fight against voter suppression.”
“When congressional districts are controlled by partisanship it is bad for voters and our democracy,” Sanders said. “Allowing non-partisan commissions to draw district lines will help combat the hyper-partisan gerrymandering we have seen in some states. We still must go further—it’s time to restore the Voting Rights Act, expand early voting periods and make it easier for people to vote, not harder.”
State Government Leadership Foundation Chairman Tom Reynolds said the decision “allows a delicate process that extends back to our nation’s creation to remain in the hands of those who were not elected and have little accountability to voters.”
“Five years ago, our REDistricting Majority Project helped state legislatures in their efforts to build fair and competitive districts, and we are disappointed Arizona’s legislature will remain unable to drive that process for its constituents going forward,” Reynolds said. “We will continue to push for state governments to take the lead on this important task.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she was “pleased that the Supreme Court has vindicated the rights of voters who want their electoral districts drawn fairly, independently and without undue emphasis on partisan affiliation or political creed.”
“Arizona’s approach to redistricting is an innovative and effective advance in the effort to reduce gerrymandering and give all Americans an opportunity to make their voices heard,” Lynch said. “Today’s decision is a victory for the people of Arizona, for the promise of fair and competitive elections and for the principles of democratic self-governance that make our nation exceptional.”