Walking the line: a decade's worth of redistricting cases offer lawmakers a little clarity with a lot of uncertainty.

Author:Domboski, Matt

Redistricting is the Rubik's Cube of politics--and the courts have provided only piecemeal guidance on how to solve it.


As the 2020 redistricting cycle approaches, state legislatures have a slew of new issues to consider. Court rulings have addressed (but not necessarily clarified) several questions this year. Who do we count when constructing a district? Is it valid to create an independent redistricting commission by way of a ballot initiative? How do we comply with the Voting Rights Act but avoid drawing districts based solely on race?

And, in what many a re calling a potentially landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Wisconsin next term that may give lawmakers an answer to whether maps can be thrown out solely for favoring one political party over another. The case was brought by Democratic voters in Wisconsin who contend state Assembly districts were unconstitutionally configured specifically to favor Republicans. The high court's ruling could have massive ramifications nationwide.

State officials have faced numerous legal disputes over the past decade, and many have been forced to either live with court-ordered maps or go back to the drawing board for a rewrite. The rulings have been so varied they bring little clarity to the process. They do, however, offer lessons for legislators who want to make the upcoming redistricting process a little less litigious.

Commissions aren't a panacea.

Arizo na voters approved a citizen initiative in 2000 that created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which drew the lines in th at cycle and again in 2010. But the Legislature claimed in 2015 th at the commission did not have the authority to draw congressional districts because the initiative that created the commission violated the Elections Clause of the federal Constitution by removing the Legislature's redistricting authority. The new district map was, therefore, unconstitutional and void , the Legislature argued. The U.S. Supreme Court did not agree, ruling against the Legislature in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redis tricting Commission.

It's worth noting that the court found commissions (but not necessarily the maps they draw) to be valid , which leaves the door open for future challenges to commission-drawn maps. Arizona's legislative district maps were challenged in 2016 for being too partisan and for violating the "one-person, one-vote" principle. The commission's legislative maps contained a maximum population deviation of 8.8 percent (the difference between the population in the largest and sma llest district s), which is well above the original plan's 4.1 percent deviation. But the Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that...

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