By PAUL MITCHELL
A case before the U.S. Supreme Court, with arguments set to be heard on March 2, could reduce the role of the State Redistricting Commission, invalidate the 2011 Congressional lines, and hand to the legislature the immediate responsibility of redrawing 53 valuable seats.
The case, born out of the Arizona Legislature’s frustration with their own commission, will decide if the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the state legislators draw congressional districts can be given to an independent commission through a ballot measure. If the commission is ruled unconstitutional, Arizona and each state with a similar commission, such as California, would have to perform a mid-decade redraw of their Congressional Districts, while legislative and other offices would not be impacted.
Mid-decade redistrictings are rare and generally very contentious.
Ten years ago, the nation watched a drama in which Democratic legislators in Texas were fleeing the state in the dead of night to Oklahoma and New Mexico in order to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a new redistricting plan. This was so important to Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay that he began enlisting the FAA in tracking flights carrying the recalcitrant legislators. When Republicans were ultimately successful, the plan flipped the partisanship of the Congressional delegation Republican for the first time since Reconstruction and resulted in a number of lawsuits and investigations.
While we are unlikely to see a Texas-sized political circus come to Sacramento, there are enough seats in play and changes to the process that could make it interesting.
It’s likely that the primary goal of a legislatively drawn redistricting plan would be stability. In the 2001 redistricting, the last time the Legislature had control, several observers had seen a ripe opportunity for the Democratic leadership and Governor to shore up some considerable gains in Democratic registration and changing demographics, particularly the growth of Latinos in several seats held by non-Latino lawmakers, but this didn’t materialize. The final plan preserved the status-quo.
But what the Redistricting Commission had done in 2012 was a radical redraw at the time. They increased the number of Majority-Minority districts, allowed for Democratic gains and were responsible for as many as a dozen retirements and losses. However, these lines are now, two elections later, the new normal. Maintaining the basic construction of these districts could be the primary goal of a statewide redraw.
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