Blog: SCOTUS Watch: Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

All eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s June, and as we await decisions that will undoubtedly shape the future of marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act, we’re also awaiting the decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). These rulings (and more!) could come as early as Thursday and continue on Friday.

Advocates in Arizona, while optimistic, wonder what a decision in favor of the Arizona Legislature would mean for redistricting but more glaring, what this decision would mean for other voter-enacted laws. Before diving in to the implications, let’s figure out what this all means and how this issue even made it in front of the United States’ highest court.

Background

The Arizona Constitution reserves certain lawmaking authority for the voters. For example, in response to government inaction, Arizonans can pass legislation independently of the Legislature through the ballot box through the state’s unique form of direct democracy. This power, the Citizen’s Initiative, is a principle established within the Arizona Constitution even before its own statehood.

The IRC, the Commission in the middle of this Supreme Court case, was created by Proposition 106 in 2000, and enacted by the voters of Arizona through a Citizen’s Initiative. Formerly, Arizona’s Constitution allowed the State Legislature to create the boundaries of congressional districts. Gerrymandering and an unresponsive, unaccountable government compelled Arizonans to respond. Voters demanded answers, and passed Proposition 106, which created the IRC and assigned it with the responsibility of congressional redistricting. Beyond being voter-enacted, the proposition passed with bipartisan support, with the backing of Indian tribes, and by a 3–1 margin.

After the IRC approved a new congressional district map, the Arizona Legislature, unhappy with the results of the map, sued the Commission. At the core of its argument, the Legislature believes that the authority of the Commission violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

U.S. Constitution, Art I, Sec. 4, Clause 1: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof…”

The Supreme Court

As mentioned before: the authority of the IRC comes from Proposition 106, which was passed by voters. The district court decided that Proposition 106 did not violate the Elections Clause. Now, the Supreme Court must answer: Did Proposition 106 violate the Elections Clause by removing the power of congressional districting from the Arizona State Legislature?

What We’re Hoping For

Arizona history shows that the enactment and implementation of voter-approved laws is not only the norm, but a basic exercise of democratic principles enshrined in the state’s constitution. To Arizonans, this is fundamental and a decision by the Supreme Court in favor of the Legislature would not only be disappointing but would create a state of uncertainty and constitutional doubt over long-standing, voter-enacted regulations that have been passed in this state, and in others. The IRC is visibly in the middle of this fight, but what is at stake is who gets to speak for Arizona. Fingers crossed for a decision that amplifies the voice of the voter.

An amicus brief was filed by the Arizona Advocacy Network and others, earlier this January. You can read that brief here.

Cross-posted from Medium.