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Supreme Court Approves Arizona Redistricting Commission


The Supreme Court has also handed a victory to people who want to reduce political partisanship in the redistricting process. The maps for congressional districts have long been drawn by legislatures and rife with gerrymandering - districts artfully drawn to give the advantage to one party over the other. Well, now a divided court has accepted the alternative process one state has created, giving a green light to others as well. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: This case turns on the meaning of the Constitution's elections clause. That clause says the legislature in a state sets the time, place and manner of elections. But 15 years ago, Arizona voters adopted a measure giving that power to an independent commission. The idea was to limit the influence of lawmakers in drawing congressional maps. State legislators objected and pursued their challenge all the way to the Supreme Court, but a majority of the Court took the side of the independent panel. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the ruling for the court's four liberals, plus Justice Anthony Kennedy. Richard Hasen teaches election law at the University of California, Irvine.

RICHARD HASEN: The majority read the term legislature quite broadly so that it included things that were passed through the initiative process.

JOHNSON: Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School says if the ruling had gone the other way, it could have upended independent commissions in more than a dozen states, opening the door to even more partisanship.

NICHOLAS STEPHANOPOULOS: Redistricting by politicians themselves, you know, redistricting by state legislators, has a terrible, inherent conflict of interest. You know, the very last people we should ever want to redistrict are the politicians who are then going to run in those districts.

JOHNSON: But in dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts raised doubts about the nonpartisan purity of independent commissions, and he accused the majority of engaging in a magic trick to interpret the Constitution. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.