Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

PETITIONER:Arizona State Legislature
RESPONDENT:Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, et al.
LOCATION: Arizona State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 13-1314
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 576 US (2015)
GRANTED: Oct 02, 2014
ARGUED: Mar 02, 2015
DECIDED: Jun 29, 2015

Eric J. Feigin – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, for the appellees
Paul D. Clement – for the appellant
Seth P. Waxman – for the appellees

Facts of the case

Until 2000, the Arizona State Constitution granted the State Legislature the ability to draw congressional districts, subject to the possibility of a gubernatorial veto. In 2000, the Arizona voters passed Proposition 106, which amended the state constitution to remove the congressional redistricting power from the legislature and vest it in the newly created Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).

In 2012, after the IRC approved a new congressional district map, the legislature sued the IRC and argued that Proposition 106 violated the Elections Clause of the federal Constitution by removing redistricting authority from the legislature and therefore that the new district map was unconstitutional and void. The legislature also requested that the district court permanently enjoin the IRC from adopting, implementing, or enforcing the new congressional district map. The district court held that Proposition 106 did not violate the Elections Clause of the federal Constitution.


Did Proposition 106 violate the Elections Clause of the federal Constitution by removing the congressional districting power from the state legislature?

Media for Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 02, 2015 in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 29, 2015 in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning in case 13-1314, the Arizona State Legislature v. the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Several states of the Unites States, Arizona among them, give their citizens direct lawmaking authority, the power to adopt laws by ballot initiative, entities approved by referendum, bills passed by the state’s legislature.

This case concerns use of the initiative to establish an independent commission to draw district lines for congressional elections.

In 2000, Arizona voters adopted Proposition 106, an initiative aimed at meeting the problem of partisan gerrymandering which means drawing district lines to subordinate adherence of one political party and entrench a rival party in power.

Proposition 106 amended Arizona’s Constitution to remove redistricting authority from the Arizona Legislature which had indulged in gerrymandering.

The proposition entrusts the task instead to an independent commission, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

After the 2010 census the commission adopted redistricting maps for congressional as well as state legislative districts.

The Arizona Legislature sued the Commission in Federal Court alleging that the Commission and the map it adopted for congressional districts violated the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That Clause Article 1 Section 4.1 provides 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 Arizona Legislature maintained that by specifying the Legislature thereof, the Elections Clause requires a state’s representative body to hold the lead rein in congressional redistricting.

The clause as the Legislature reads it precludes the people from exercising the initiative to establish an independent commission to accomplish redistricting.

A three-judge District Court held unanimously that the Arizona Legislature had standing to sue but dividing 2:1 the court rejected the Legislature’s complaint on the merits.

We affirm the District Court’s judgment in favor of the Redistricting Commission.

We hold first that the Arizona Legislature had standing to bring this suit; Proposition 106 strips the legislature of its authority to draw congressional districts.

Another provision of the Arizona Constitution bans efforts by the Legislature to undermine the purposes of an initiative.

Proposition 106 with us nullify any vote by the legislature now or in the future purporting to adopt a redistricting plan.

This suit we note is not brought by disgruntled individual members of the Legislature who might well lack standing.

The Arizona Legislature is an institutional plaintiff and both houses of the Legislatures voted to authorize the litigation.

Next the merits, we hold that both 2 U.S.C. Section 2a(c) and the Elections Clause permit the people of Arizona to provide for redistricting by an independent commission.

This court’s precedents in a trilogy of cases teach that redistricting is a legislative function because it is this legislative, it is governed by the state’s prescriptions of the lawmaking. Those prescriptions the Court has held may include the referendum and the governor’s veto. While exercise of the initiative was not an issue in our prior decisions, it is no constitutional barrier to a state’s empowerment of its people by embracing that form of lawmaking.

Section 2a(c) is a law enacted by Congress specifying congressional redistricting procedures operative only if the state after an apportionment, has not redistricted in the manner provided by the law thereof.

The statute’s language is virtually identical to an earlier provision contained in the 1911 Apportionment Act, that act safeguarded to each state authority to divide its own laws and regulations on the creation of congressional districts.

If a state shows to lodge legislative authority over redistricting and the people the 1911 Act supported their right to do so, so did the 1911 Act successor Section 2a(c).

So long as the state has redistricted in the manner provided by its own law, the resulting redistricting plan satisfies 2a(c) and becomes the presumptively governing map.

A statute cannot permit what the Constitution prohibits so the question key to this controversy is whether the Elections Clause permits the people of Arizona to provide for redistricting by independent commission.

The dominant purpose of the clause, the historical record bears out, was certainly not to restrict the way states enact legislation.

It was to empower Congress to overwrite state election rules and protect against abuses by state-level politicians.

When the Constitution was composed and later ratified, the people’s legislative prerogatives, the initiative, and the referendum were not yet in our democracy’s arsenal.

But as the Election Clause reasonable read to disarm states from adopting modes of lawmaking that give the direct voice to the people, we think not.

It is characteristic of our federal system, that states retain authority to establish their own governmental processes and to serve as laboratories for experiment in democratic governance.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

We resist reading the Election Clause to single out federal elections as the one area in which states may not use citizen initiatives as an alternative legislative process.

The framers may not have imagined the modern initiative process one in which the people of a state exercise legislative authority on an equal footing with the authority of an institutional legislature but the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of government power.

Banning lawmaking by initiative to direct a state’s method of apportioning Congressional Districts as the Arizona Legislature asked us to do, would have far-reaching consequences.

It would cast out on numerous other time, place, and manner regulations governing federal elections that states have adopted by the initiative mode of legislating.

To mention but one of many examples, permanent voter registration has been secured by ballot initiative.

Barring the initiative could also endanger election provisions contained in state constitutions that were adopted by conventions and ratified by voters at the ballot box without involvement or approval by the Legislature.

Turning to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering, Arizona voters sought to restore the core principle that voters should choose their representatives and not the other way around.

The Election Clause reaffirm does not hinder that endeavor.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion to invite Justice Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Thomas; Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Scalia.