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Arizona SCOTUS Case Could Throw Out CA House Districts

A lawsuit initiated by the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature, which is on its way to the United States Supreme Court, could have major implications for Congressional Districts here in California.

The centerpiece of the lawsuit is an assertion that a ballot measure passed by Arizona voters that shifted the power to draw that state’s congressional districts away from the legislature and to an independent commission violates the elections clause of Article One of the U.S. Constitution, which states at the beginning of section 4: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof…”.

The lawsuit argues that only the state legislature itself, under the U.S. Constitution, has the power to determine the means by which congressional district lines may be drawn.  In Arizona, and here in California, ballot measures were approved by the voters of each state vesting the power to draw these federal legislative boundaries in commissions.

It is possible that if the Supreme Court were to overturn the Arizona measure, it could probably be done with broad enough language that it would have the effect of negating California’s measure as well. Should that occur, the California legislature would once again have jurisdiction to adopt new Congressional District lines–which would certainly advantage Democrats, who enjoy near super-majority status in both the State Senate and the State Assembly.

If their decision is not applied broadly, but does strike the Arizona ballot measure results–then you can certainly expect a new lawsuit to be filed that is directly applicable to the California ballot measure.

This week, a group of California Republicans filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing the the lawsuit, and making the case for why the court should sustain the existing Independent Commissions, obviously concerned about the impact of the Arizona case here in the Golden State. Signing the brief were former Republican Governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in addition to the California Chamber of Commerce, businessman Bill Mundell, and Republican heavyweight donor Charles Munger, Jr.

There is speculation that perhaps a brief coming with a lot of Republican bona fides could be particularly influential on Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate Republicans who often is a swing vote on the highest court.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on this case in March–and traditionally, the court issues its opinions later in May and June.

Other states are looking at moving to independent commissions to draw House lines, including Indiana and Virginia. No doubt they will be watching the outcome of this decision.

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