A bid by state lawmakers to take back the power to draw congressional lines is legally flawed and should be rejected, the lead attorney for the Independent Redistricting Commission told the nation’s high court. Mary O’Grady acknowledged that the U.S. Constitution does say that the “times, places and manner” of electing members of Congress “shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.” But in legal papers filed with the Supreme Court, O’Grady said that doesn’t necessarily mean the 90 people who serve in the Arizona House and Senate. O’Grady pointed out that the Arizona Constitution, while setting up the two legislative bodies, spells out that the people “reserve the power to propose laws and amendment to the (Arizona) constitution and to enact or reject such laws and amendments at the polls, independently of the legislature.” She said that’s exactly what happened in 2000, when voters created the redistricting commission: They constitutionally took away the power that lawmakers had had since statehood to draw both congressional and legislative lines.
Those legislative lines are the subject of a separate federal court challenge by Republican interests on different grounds. This case, filed by the leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature, goes solely to that federal constitutional language of who gets to craft congressional districts.
The fight is more than academic.
If the Supreme Court sides with the Legislature, it would allow lawmakers to scrap the lines the commission has drawn for the state’s nine congressional districts ahead of the 2016 election, lines that in the 2012 election resulted in the election of five Democrats and four Republicans. And that would pave the way for members of the GOP majority to alter the districts in a way to give their party’s candidates an electoral edge.