The Supreme Court is casting a skeptical eye on voter-approved commissions that draw a state’s congressional district boundaries. The justices heard arguments Monday in an appeal from Arizona Republicans who object to the state’s independent redistricting commission that voters created to reduce political influence in the process. A decision against the commission also would threaten a similar system in neighboring California and could affect commissions in an additional 11 states. The big issue before the court is whether voters can take away the power given by the U.S. Constitution to elected state legislatures to decide how members of the U.S. House are elected.
The court’s conservative justices indicated that they think the answer is, no. And some liberal justices also seemed troubled by arguments put forth by lawyers for the Obama administration and the Arizona commission.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote often controls closely fought cases, recounted the run-up to the process that led to the change in the Constitution that provided for direct election of U.S. senators, who previously had been chosen by legislatures. “It seems to me that history works very much against you,” Kennedy told commission lawyer Seth Waxman.
For his part, Paul Clement, representing Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature, said the constitutional provision at issue in Monday’s case means “you can’t completely cut out of the process the state legislature on a permanent basis.”