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If SCOTUS Strikes Down Redistricting Commissions, This Bipartisan Bill Would Provide a Stopgap

Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s redistricting commission. But some in Congress aren’t waiting for the decision to be handed down.

  • Eric Petry
June 3, 2015

Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in the closely watched case on the constitutionality of Arizona’s citizen-created independent redistricting commission. But some in Congress aren’t waiting for the decision to be handed down, and are instead proposing preventative measures to safeguard congressional districts from being redrawn in the wake of an adverse decision.  

Many observers worry the Court’s decision against the Arizona commission could open the window for an immediate round of mid-decade redistricting not only in Arizona, but also in California and the handful of other states that currently use commissions to draw congressional lines. This would be conducted by the state legislatures and susceptible to extreme partisan gerrymandering — the exact outcome voters attempted to eliminate when they passed the ballot initiatives or constitutional amendments creating redistricting commissions in the first place.

In fact, reports are that some political operatives in Arizona and California are already eagerly eyeing the possibility that their parties might be able to pick up additional seats by redrawing districts to target opposing incumbents. In California, this list would likely include House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R) whose South Central California district some believe could be made more Democratic if it were redrawn to include nearby Latino communities.

The prospect of a chaotic mid-decade round of redistricting has prompted California Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R) to introduce the Citizens’ Districts Preservation Act (H.R. 2501). Using Congress’s power under the Elections Clause, the bill would mandate that congressional districts in the six states with independent redistricting commissions — Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey, and Washington — remain unchanged until after the next redistricting cycle in 2020. The bill, said Lowenthal and Rohrabacher, merely reaffirms citizens’ authority to enact ballot initiatives and ensures “the will of . . . constituents and the democratic process is respected.”

So far, eight Democrats and six Republicans, all from Arizona or California, have joined Lowenthal and Rohrabacher’s bill. Now that Congress has returned from its Memorial Day recess, the two lawmakers said they hope other representatives will also sign on to “help reduce partisanship, eliminate gerrymandering, and allow Congress to be more responsive to improving the lives of all Americans.”

H.R. 2501 joins several other redistricting measures that have already been introduced in Congress this year. But unlike the other lengthier and more complicated bills, the Citizens’ Districts Preservation Act is a mere three pages long and has a far more limited goal — just to preserve the status quo until the next round of redistricting in 2021 in the six states that currently have commission drawn maps.

No hearings having been scheduled so far on the bill, but pressure to do so could change with a Supreme Court ruling. Whether those pressures will be enough to counter the temptation to take advantage of the situation to maximize partisan gain remains to be seen.

(Photo: Flickr/ TruthOut)