Supreme Court Upholds Arizona's Voter-Approved Redistricting Commission

By 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to allow 10 Texas abortion clinics to stay open. Molly Riley/Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a voter-approved plan that stripped Arizona state lawmakers of their role in drawing congressional districts in a bid to remove partisan politics from the process.

The court, split 5-4, ruled that the ballot initiative did not violate the U.S. Constitution's requirement that state legislatures set congressional district boundaries.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, with the court's four liberals joined by conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy.

She wrote that the Constitution's language giving legislatures the role of setting the "times, places and manner" of federal elections refers not to a specific legislative body but instead to a state's general authority to legislate on the issue, which could include a voter-led initiative.

The state's Republican-controlled legislature objected to a 2000 ballot initiative endorsed by Arizona voters that set up an independent commission to determine the U.S. House of Representatives districts.

The commission was created as part of an effort to eliminate partisan redistricting by whichever party happened to control the state legislature when new congressional districts had to be drawn. The case could affect similar commissions a handful of other states.

Critics say partisan "gerrymandering" leads to House districts being drawn in a way intended to give the party controlling the legislature the maximum number of seats possible while marginalizing voters favoring the other party.

In February 2014, a special three-judge panel of the U.S. district court in Arizona ruled in favor of the commission.

Four of the five members of the independent panel are selected by senior members of the legislature of both parties from a list of candidates picked by a state committee that vets appeals court judge applicants. The fifth is picked by the other four commission members from the same list.

The case is Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1314.