In response to an anticipated ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States in Arizona State Legislature vs. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which could very well strike down the creation of independent redistricting commissions in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington State, two members of Congress from California, Repupblican Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa and Democrat Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, yesterday introduced H.R. 2501, the Citizens’ Districts Preservation Act.
At the heart of the case before the Court is the language of Article 1, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, the plain language of which reads, in part, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations…”.
The argument being made by the plaintiff in the case, the Arizona Legislature, is that shifting the responsibility for drawing House district lines from the legislature to a commission, via a ballot measure, is unconstitutional–on the grounds that by the exact wording of the Constitution says that power is reserved to the legislature of each state.
However, the clause does go on to say that Congress may alter those rules.
That is the basis for H.R. 2501, the Citizens’ Districts Preservation Act–which, in essence, is Congress altering the rules. The legislation explicitly sanctions the redrawing of House districts via redistricting commissions, and would keep the current congressional districts that were drawn by independent redistricting commissions in place until the next census in 2020. H.R. 2501 already has 16 bi-partisan co-authors.
“When the voters choose a commission to draw their state’s congressional districts, their decision should be respected,” says Congressman Rohrabacher. “Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to ensure that the will of the people be carried out, and adopting the Citizens’ Districts Preservation Act will accomplish just that.”
The Supreme Court could make their decision in this case in the next few weeks. If they do side with the Arizona legislature, and throw out that state’s redistricting commission, and the lines that they drew, it will not take long for people other states with redistricting commissions to petition the court to have that ruling apply to the their states as well.
Here in California there is definitely plenty of time for the Democrats in control of the State Legislature to draw a new set of House lines before next year’s elections.
Sources in the State Capitol say that top Democrats have been telling people that they will not change the lines, even if they have an opportunity. Given that the current set of lines have resulted in lopsided delegation with over three-quarters of the House seats being held by Democrats, their position is not hard to understand.
That said, the temptation to redraw the lines will be great. In last year’s elections the GOP narrowly missed the opportunity to pick up a whole slew of seats in California. It wouldn’t take much tinkering to make sure that none of those seats could be picked off the rest of the decade.
A few other relatively minor adjustments in the lines, and several incumbent Republican Congressmen–Jeff Denham, David Valadeo and Steve Knight–could be sent packing.
One real threat to a Democrat gerrymander a referendum. In the grand scheme of things, with House seats in the balance, it wouldn’t take that much money to gather the necessary signatures to refer a gerrymandering bill to the voters. No doubt Capitol Democrats might look for inducements to tempt a handful of Republicans to vote for their lines. If a redistricting bill passes with super-majorities, then that bill could not be referred to the voters.
When considering the fate of H.R. 2501, one big question will be whether or not an analysis shows Democrats or the GOP will be net winners over new lines draws in states where commissions currently draw the lines.
If there is a significant edge for the GOP, look for a Presidential veto. If Democrats will improve their lot substantially, I predict the bill never clears the House.
To make a difference, that bill would have to be moved quickly. But all depends on what the Supremes actually decide to do.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @flashreport.