Several months of quiet whispers have quickly turned into a resounding buzz — and a nervous buzz, no less — about a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that questions whether it’s constitutional for independent state commissions to have the sole power to draw political district maps. The case is centered on Arizona, but the buzz being heard on this side of the Colorado River arises from the fear that if a lower court’s ruling is thrown out, California may very well be next in the return to partisan congressional gerrymandering. It explains why everyone from legal scholars to three former California governors is asking to be heard before the nation’s highest court. The case in question is Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, now scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March. And the argument being made by Arizona’s legislative leaders in their quest to outlaw the state’s redistricting commission is pretty simple: The U.S. Constitution, they say, vests all power over congressional elections in state legislatures — and no one else.
The legal fight has been brewing for a long time. Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative in 2000 that created an independent redistricting commission. A decade later,California voters assigned the drawing of congressional districts to a similar panel (after giving the panel the power to draw legislative districts in 2008).
Now, a swarm of Californians are filing amici curiae briefs on behalf of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, clearly fearing that the fate of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission depends on what happens in Washington, D.C., before the end of 2015.
While California’s commissioners have filed their own amicus brief in support of the Arizona panel, their fight was joined on Friday by a similar brief from three former California governors — George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of those, Schwarzenegger has the most to lose in terms of his legacy, as he was a driving force behind the two initiatives that wrestled control of political map drawing away from the Legislature.