By ruling that Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission is constitutional, the Supreme Court of the United States kicked plutocrat-loving Republicans in the gut. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the 5-4 majority opinion, joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, Kennedy and Sotomayer.
The crux of the majority’s reasoning can be found in last paragraph of the ruling.
Our Declaration of Independence, drew from Locke in stating: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” And our fundamental instrument of government derives its authority from “We the People.” U. S. Const., Preamble. As this Court stated, quoting Hamilton: “[T]he true principle of a republic is, that the people should choose whom they please to govern them.” Powell v. McCormack, 395 U. S. 486, 540-541 (1969) (quoting 2 Debates on the Federal Constitution 257 (J. Elliot ed. 1876)). In this light, it would be perverse to interpret the term “Legislature” in the Elections Clause so as to exclude lawmaking by the people, particularly where such lawmaking is intended to check legislators’ ability to choose the district lines they run in, thereby advancing the prospect that Members of Congress will in fact be “chosen . . . by the People of the several States,”
Even though this case got much less attention from the media compared to the health care and marriage equality cases it is in some ways as important as the aforementioned cases. The reason is it will shape the meaning of vote equality in the years to come. Had the court ruled the other way, frankly, it would have removed the last real hope of stopping the Koch controlled Republicans from rigging elections in their favor.
The question before the court was to determine the meaning of “legislature” under Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution.
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, except as to the places of choosing Senators.
The background of this case begins with a ballot measure in 2000. Fifty percent of the people in Arizona voted to remove redistricting power from the legislature and to establish the AIRC. The reason was simple: Arizonians were frustrated with a rigged electoral map. Initially, the AIRC didn’t do a very good job of drawing the electoral map. As noted by Miriam Wasser, Republicans had a super majority by the end of the decade because ”the number of registered Democrats was not reflected in the election results – somewhat comparable to how a presidential candidate who wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College loses the entire election.”
After the 2010 census, a new AIRC was elected, and they chose a different set of mapping consultants. The Koch controlled Republicans were angry because they believed the new consultants were “too Democratic” in other words, fair.
In 2012, the Koch Republican controlled legislature filed a suit claiming Proposition 106 (the ballot measure to establish the AIRC) was an unconstitutional power grab by the people of Arizona. When, in February 2014, a three-judge panel ruled that the AIRC was constitutional, the Koch Republican controlled legislature appealed to the Supreme Court.
Through this ruling, the Supreme Court placed an important limit on the Republican Party’s efforts to silence the people. It means that independent redistricting commissions in other states are also constitutional. It also means that the power to stop Republican election rigging is where it belongs – in the hands of the people.