The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday appeared skeptical of a voter-approved plan that stripped Arizona state lawmakers of their role in drawing congressional districts in an bid to remove partisan politics from the process. The nine-justice court’s conservative majority, including regular swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, asked questions during a one-hour oral argument that indicated there could be a majority willing to find that the ballot initiative violated the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that state legislatures set congressional district boundaries. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature objected to a 2000 ballot initiative endorsed by Arizona voters that set up an independent commission to determine the U.S. House of Representatives districts.
The commission was created as part of an effort to eliminate partisan redistricting by whichever party happened to control the state legislature when new congressional districts had to be drawn. The case could affect similar commissions in six other states, including California.
Critics say partisan “gerrymandering” leads to House districts being drawn in a way intended to give the party controlling the legislature the maximum number of seats possible while marginalizing voters favoring the other party.
The legal question focuses on whether the Constitution’s language giving legislatures the role of setting the “times, places and manner” of federal elections refers to a specific legislative body or instead to a state’s general authority to legislate on the issue, which could include a voter-led initiative.