Last November, California elected many new legislators due in large part to California’s independent redistricting commission and its creation of competitive districts, resulting in legislators who will be more accountable to their constituents. As a result of Proposition 11 in 2008 and Prop. 20 in 2010, California politicians can no longer draw their own legislative or congressional districts, which in the past has virtually guaranteed re-election. This new accountability has created a powerful incentive for legislators to work together to deliver for their district and not just for themselves. But the tremendous success of California’s independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is under threat. Like California, Arizona voters used their initiative process to authorize state and congressional redistricting by an independent commission. And now, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a lawsuit that contends the Constitution permits only legislative bodies, not independent commissions, to draw congressional districts.
If Arizona’s commission is found unconstitutional, the Legislature could try to redraw new congressional boundaries before 2016 and again after 2020, following the new census. While new lines are usually drawn every 10 years following the decennial census, a Supreme Court decision could trigger a new redistricting before the 10 years are up – creating an opportunity for partisan mischief that politicians love to play.
If the court determines that Arizona’s commission violates the U.S. Constitution, it could turn back the clock for California and with it all the progress our independent redistricting commission has made.