Monday, June 29, 2015

Citizen Redistricting Commissions Upheld

In California, both the Republican and Democratic Parties came out against the redistricting commission notion. Then once we had it, our GreenDog team went to work making sure that in the Bay Area, things were done fairly. No more would we share a State Senator with San Francisco. (Much as we love our City across the Bay, it doesn't make sense for a District that crosses that body of water.) Our effort was called Uniquely North Bay and was fueled by social media and in-person appearances at Commission hearings. We prevailed.

The result were good; Democrats in the state made out ok. We all breathed a sigh of relief. And then along came Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which threatened to undo it all. But the Supremes in a classic 5-4 decision (and if you've been following the Court, almost all of them have been lately, for good or ill) decided in favor of the citizens redistricting commission and against the Legislature's gerrymandering attempt. To celebrate make yourself a delicious strawberry shortcake (recipe below), as the 4th of July rolls around.

Here's the report from NPR:

U.S. states' efforts to counter extreme gerrymandering won a victory Monday, as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a bipartisan Arizona panel that draws the state's districts. The court's vote was 5-4; Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, as did Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the opinion for the majority, in which her citations included James Madison writing in The Federalist Papers.

"The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering," Ginsberg wrote, "and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have 'an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.' "

Ginsberg continued, quoting a 2005 gerrymandering case: "In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore 'the core principle of republican government,' namely, 'that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.' "

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission was formed 15 years ago, after the state's voters approved Proposition 106 and amended the state's constitution to take redistricting power away from the Legislature (which later filed suit).

In his dissent, Roberts said that the majority's position "has no basis in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution, and it contradicts precedents from both Congress and this Court."

Saying that if the people of Arizona want to change the electoral process, they should focus on passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Roberts concluded, "Unfortunately, today's decision will only discourage this democratic method of change."

As for the effects Arizona's commission has had, here's what Arizona Public Media reports:
"The independent commission drew boundaries after the 2000 census and again after the 2010 census. In the 2012 election, five Democrats and four Republicans were elected to Congress in Arizona. In 2014, five Republicans and four Democrats were elected."
The case could have effects far beyond Arizona; more than a dozen other states, including California, have adopted similar processes as they try to break up partisan gridlock that results from drawing polarized districts.

Today's ruling has been hotly anticipated, particularly ahead of the 2016 election cycle. The ruling "could affect as many as one-third of congressional districts," NPR's Jessica Taylor writes for It's All Politics.

A large part of the debate over the case hinged on one word: "legislature."

From the Constitution's clause on elections:
"The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof."
The two sides have argued over whether "legislature" in the clause can be interpreted to refer to voters who enact a law via ballot initiative.

When the case was argued back in March, the Arizona Legislature's lawyer, Paul Clement, said, "The whole idea of the Constitution was that we're going to form a republican government, that we can't have direct democracy."

The Constitution, Clement said, gave authority over elections to elected officials, not to the public. But Ginsberg and the rest of the majority disagreed, mentioning not only the efforts to combat gerrymandering but also dozens of voter initiatives that shape how Americans vote, such as mail-in ballots and voter ID laws.

But Chief Justice Roberts did not agree — and he cited the 1913 shift in how U.S. senators are chosen to show his disapproval. He wrote:
"Just over a century ago, Arizona became the second State in the Union to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment. That Amendment transferred power to choose United States Senators from the Legislature' of each State, Art. I, §3, to 'the people thereof.' The Amendment resulted from an arduous, decades-long campaign in which reformers across the country worked hard to garner approval from Congress and three-quarters of the States.

"What chumps! Didn't they realize that all they had to do was interpret the constitutional term 'the Legislature' to mean 'the people'? The Court today performs just such a magic trick with the Elections Clause."
Here's how NPR's Nina Totenberg described the case back in March:
"In a state with 35 percent registered Republicans, 35 percent Independents, and 30 percent Democrats, the congressional map the commission drew had four safe Republican seats, two safe Democratic seats, and three competitive districts.

"Infuriated Republican state legislators wanted a bigger slice of the pie, however, and after the Arizona Supreme Court frustrated their effort to fire the commission's chair, they challenged the commission as unconstitutional, appealing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Original recipe makes 1 8-inch round cake Change Servings
  • PREP
    30 mins
  • COOK
    20 mins
    50 mins


  1. Slice the strawberries and toss them with 1/2 cup of white sugar. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Grease and flour one 8 inch round cake pan.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, 2 tablespoons white sugar and the salt. With a pastry blender cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the beaten egg and milk. Stir until just combined.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool partially in pan on wire rack.
  5. Slice partially cooled cake in half, making two layers. Place half of the strawberries on one layer and top with the other layer. Top with remaining strawberries and cover with the whipped cream.