This Monday, the Supreme Court heard the case Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The case arises from a 2000 referendum in which Arizonans voted to give a 5-person independent commission the power to draw district lines for congressional seats. The commission is considered to have been fairly successful in being non-partisan. However, the state legislature decided to bring suit, as legislators claimed that they felt shut out of the process. Arizona’s citizens sought to eliminate gerrymandering, which contributes to the polarized government we have by creating “safe” districts favoring a particular political party. In those districts, the primary elections are often more competitive than the general election, leading to more extreme candidates.
During this Monday’s oral arguments, Supreme Court Justices appeared ready to bring down the electoral commission. At issue was the Election Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives to legislatures the power to set “the times, places, and manners of holding elections for senators and representatives.” If the Supreme Court does decide to eviscerate the power of independent commissions not sanctioned by state legislatures, it will have a ripple effect, for other commissions, especially the one in California, are likely to be questioned too. This could have a horrible effect on the intrepid efforts of citizens attempting to eliminate the harmful effects of gerrymandering from the political process. Unfortunately, a plain reading of the Constitution seems very clearly to restrict this power to the state legislatures, so citizens will have to take matters into their own hands to solve this problem.
If the Supreme Court does rule in favor of the legislature, the only recourse may be a constitutional amendment. Indeed, it does seem that gerrymandering is allowed by the Constitution, as legislatures are given the sole power to determine the manner of elections. Therefore, this problem can only be solved by amending the Constitution to allow for citizens to unilaterally remove the power of drawing district lines from state legislatures. It would be quite unfortunate if the Supreme Court were to side against the commission, but even an unlikely, favorable ruling would not solve the issue persisting elsewhere in the country. Only large-scale reform, probably a constitutional amendment, can combat this menace to the very marrow of our political structure.