Princeton Election Consortium

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SCOTUS upholds Arizona Redistricting Commission!

April 20th, 2016, 10:24am by Sam Wang


Decision’s out (PDF)! It’s unanimous, written by Breyer, favoring the Commission, an outcome for which I had advocated. Unfortunately, nothing about tests for symmetry, which I proposed in the NYT and in an upcoming Stanford Law Review article.

More thoughts…The opinion is very short (barely over 10 pages) and is narrowly written, as Amy Howe as SCOTUSBlog writes. It doesn’t seem to do much more than state that population deviations of up to 10 percent are acceptable. It does as little as possible, while still upholding the Commission’s work. Several people, including me, filed briefs arguing that statistically, there was no measurable partisan offense. But the Court ruled in a way that did not require them to take a position on whether an injury had occurred.

The narrowness of the opinion might reflect a new direction for the Chief Justice. On the one hand, Supreme Court opinions are unanimous, or nearly so. But in recent years they haven’t shrunk back from a series of 5-4 votes on controversial cases that roll back worker rights, voting rights, and other areas of standing law.

This redistricting case could have been such a situation. FantasySCOTUS had it as being anywhere from 5-4 (favoring Harris) to a 9-0 majority. As written, the opinion stayed well clear of matters regarding the Voting Rights Act, an area where the most conservative wing (Thomas, Alito, Roberts) don’t accept current law. Now that conservatives are probably headed for being in a 5-4 minority, Roberts may discover a new-found love for consensus – as a means of slowing down any advance for liberal priorities.

I initially became interested in this case as a means of advocating for a gerrymandering standard. With today’s decision, that didn’t work out. However, other cases are coming down the pike:Whitford v. Nichol in Wisconsin, and Shapiro v. McManus in Maryland (for a description, see pp. 36-41 of my article). The time is ripe for the Court to take up this question. If not this year, then next year. Onward!

Tags: Redistricting

6 Comments so far ↓

  • David

    I read an article in The Atlantic some years back discussing that the U.S. has by far the highest ratio of population to elected representatives of any democracy. While representation at the level, for example, that the U.K. has is not practical (that would require over 3000 House districts), the article did advocate for a modest increase in House districts. I believe adding more districts should make gerrymandering at least somewhat more difficult. Any thoughts on the subject?

  • Olav Grinde

    Thanks for the update and the links. I was wondering what SCOTUS would decide – but must admit that I did not expect them to make a narrow decision that creates such little precedent.

  • Jay Sheckley

    Thank you, Sam, for your important work on this topic.

  • Phil

    I was wondering what you think about some of the proposals FairVote has put forward. Specifically multimember districts. http://www.fairvote.org/innovations

    • Sam Wang

      That would be a major step away from existing Supreme Court precedents, of which there are many. Conceptually could be a good idea – but it depends a lot on the exact election rules. The wrong rule could suppress minority representation. Honestly, these ideas are probably not going anywhere for a few decades at a minimum.

  • Commentor27

    Have there been any elections held using the maps drawn by the commission, and if not, what would be the first one?

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