Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Citizens redistricting panels survive test

By Professor Jessica Levinson

This op-ed originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee. Levinson has also provided related commentary to the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, AZ Central and NBC 4-Los Angeles.

The U.S. Supreme Court just saved independent redistricting commissions, but a political earthquake could be coming next term.

Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Monday upheld the ability of citizens commissions to draw congressional district lines. At issue was the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that the “Legislature” in each state shall prescribe the “times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives.”

The majority essentially found that the word “Legislature” includes not just elected lawmakers but also citizens acting in a legislative capacity, for instance when exercising their rights under initiatives or referendums to enact or repeal laws that affect congressional elections.

Had the court ruled the other way, it could have thrown the validity into question of other numerous other laws passed via direct democracy that affect congressional elections – open primaries, voter identification requirements, vote by mail provisions and early voting. In addition, California’s redistricting commission, likely legally indistinguishable from Arizona’s commission, now appears safe from this type of legal challenge. This ruling maintains the status quo throughout the country.

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