Aug 30, 2022 - Politics

Independent state legislature vs independent redistricting

Illustration of the state of Arizona with shifting red and blue districts inside it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) is debating whether to get involved in a U.S. Supreme Court case over concerns that the decision could potentially abolish its role in redrawing congressional lines.

Catch up quick: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in Moore v. Harper, in which North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature is challenging a court's authority to strike down and redraw its congressional map.

  • The North Carolina Supreme Court found that GOP lawmakers had illegally gerrymandered its congressional districts and appointed three experts to draw a new map.
  • Lawmakers sued, arguing that the courts had no authority to intervene due to a controversial concept called "independent state legislature theory."
  • That theory is based on the U.S. Constitution's election clause, which states, "The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof."

Why it matters: If the U.S. Supreme Court sides with North Carolina's legislature, it could eliminate the authority that independent commissions, such as Arizona's, have to draw congressional districts.

  • It could also jeopardize the new congressional map that the AIRC approved in December.
  • The exact effect a ruling in favor of the North Carolina legislature would have on the AIRC would depend on the details of the opinion.
  • Arizona voters in 2000 took redistricting authority from the state legislature and gave it to the five-member AIRC, which consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent chairperson.

Between the lines: Arizona redistricting commissioners are still trying to decide whether they should defend the AIRC's authority by filing an amicus brief.

  • In a meeting Monday, Democratic commissioner Shereen Lerner was in favor of the amicus brief, saying the AIRC should defend its work and the voters' will.
  • Republican commissioner David Mehl said he saw "no compelling reason" to intervene, while fellow Republican Doug York said he was "sort of torn" on the issue.
  • Independent chair Erika Neuberg said she was in strong support of an amicus brief to defend the commission's work and Arizona's states' rights.

Of note: Due to the partisan split of the AIRC, Neuberg's vote has often been the deciding factor.

What's next: Democratic commissioner Derrick Watchman was unable to attend Monday's meeting, so the AIRC will convene again at noon Wednesday to make a decision about the Supreme Court case.

Flashback: The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the AIRC's right to draw maps in 2015 after Republican lawmakers argued that the election clause meant that only legislatures, and not independent commissions, could draw congressional districts.

  • The court ruled that the word "legislature" in the election clause broadly referred to a state's legislative power, not just the legislative body itself.
  • "This Supreme Court has already shown that they will overturn precedent, so there's no way to know what they will do," Lerner told Axios, referencing the June opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade.
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