The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about why legislative districts in Arizona have unequal population — and whether that matters legally. Republican interests as well as two state GOP officials want the justices to conclude that the Independent Redistricting Commission acted illegally when it drew the lines in 2011 for all of the elections for this decade. They point out that some of the 30 districts have more residents than others. That point is not in dispute. Even the commission’s attorneys concede that there is an 8.8 percent difference in population between the largest and smallest. What the high court will consider is the question of whether the move was justified.
Mary O’Grady, the commission’s attorney, says the deviations were done to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. More to the point, the law at that time required Arizona, as a state with a history of discrimination, to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice for any changes in voting laws. And that includes district lines.
That law required Arizona to demonstrate that the change does not have either the purpose or effect of racial discrimination. Put simply, preclearance would not be provided for changes that make it harder for a minority group to elect its “preferred candidates.”
But Mark Hearne, who represents Republicans who are challenging the plan, said that ignores a more important “one-person, one-vote” requirement. Unequal districts mean that those who live in underpopulated districts have greater voting strength than those who live in districts with more voters.