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Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (Amicus Brief)

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of redistricting commissions like the one used in Arizona.

Published: June 29, 2015

On June 29, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Arizona State Legis­lature v. Arizona Inde­pend­ent Redis­trict­ing Commis­sion. In a 5–4 decision, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision, find­ing that the redis­trict­ing commis­sion created by Arizon­a’s voters via ballot initi­at­ive in 2000 does not viol­ate the U.S. Consti­tu­tion’s Elec­tions Clause.

Case Back­ground

The case chal­lenged a state consti­tu­tional amend­ment adop­ted in 2000 by Arizona voters which created a polit­ic­ally neut­ral commis­sion draw­ing new bound­ar­ies for the state’s congres­sional districts every ten years. Before the amend­ment, the state legis­lature, as in many states, had been respons­ible for setting and adjust­ing district lines.

The Commis­sion drew district bound­ar­ies in 2001 and again in 2011. After the 2011 redis­trict­ing, however, the Repub­lican-controlled state legis­lature sued the Commis­sion, arguing that use of the Commis­sion to draw maps viol­ated the U.S. Consti­tu­tion’s Elec­tions Clause. At issue was a portion of the Elec­tions Clause that provides that, the “times, places and manner of hold­ing elec­tions for Senat­ors and Repres­ent­at­ives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legis­lature thereof.” Because redis­trict­ing tradi­tion­ally has been construed to fall within the ambit of “manner” of hold­ing elec­tions, Arizona argued that the strict language of the clause meant that congres­sional districts can be drawn only by state legis­latures.

A panel of three federal judges rejec­ted the chal­lenge in a 2–1 decision, hold­ing that the use of the term “legis­lature” in the Elec­tions Clause should be read to refer to the entirety of a state’s legis­lat­ive process, includ­ing ballot initi­at­ives passed by the voters.

Affirm­ing the district court’s decision, the Supreme Court also rejec­ted the Arizona legis­lature’s “wooden” inter­pret­a­tion of the Elec­tion Clause. In doing so, the Court preserved a valu­able tool used by citizens across the coun­try to reform redis­trict­ing prac­tices.

Had the Court reached the oppos­i­tion conclu­sion, it could have had far reach­ing rami­fic­a­tions, throw­ing into doubt a number of long­stand­ing state prac­tices across the coun­try. A grow­ing number of states in recent years, includ­ing Cali­for­nia, have given inde­pend­ent commis­sions the power to set the bound­ar­ies of their congres­sional districts. In fact, almost half of the states now use redis­trict­ing commis­sions in some form, includ­ing as a backup if the legis­lature is unable to pass a redis­trict­ing plan. Efforts to adopt similar sorts of reforms are currently under­way in Illinois, Ohio, and South Dakota – with Arizona and Cali­for­nia frequently serving as models for proposed reforms. The decision also could have thrown in doubt dozens of other elec­tion laws ranging from Wash­ing­ton State’s top two primary to Missis­sip­pi’s voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law that were enacted through ballot initi­at­ive.

The District Court opin­ion and dissent are avail­able here. The tran­script of the oral argu­ment is avail­able here and the audio is avail­able here.

US Supreme Court Opin­ions

US Supreme Court Merits Briefs

US Supreme Court Amicus Briefs

In Support of Appel­lant

In Support of Appellees

A summary of each amicus brief is avail­able here.

Other US Supreme Court Docu­ments