Justices will hear new case on Arizona state redistricting

AP News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 10:28 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear a new case about the drawing of state legislative districts in Arizona by an independent commission, a day after the justices upheld the commission's congressional map-drawing.

The court said it will consider in its new term whether the legislative districts are unconstitutional. Eleven Republican voters had sued the commission, claiming that it illegally shifted Republican voters from some districts to make them more likely to elect Democrats to the state Legislature on the premise of complying with the federal Voting Rights Act.

A panel of federal judges found that the state's redistricting commission did not violate the Constitution's equal-protection clause by putting more Republican voters in some districts that already were likely to elect GOP candidates and leaving other districts with smaller overall populations. Those districts have heavier concentrations of Hispanic voters and are considered more likely to elect Democrats.

The judges acknowledged that some commission members were trying to "improve Democratic prospects in the affected districts."

But the judges found that the differences between the districts were legal — in spite of the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote — because the commission mainly was trying to win Justice Department approval under the Voting Rights Act.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court largely ended the Justice Department's role of giving advance approval to districting plans in Arizona and other states with a history of discrimination against black, Hispanic and other minority populations. But the Arizona maps were drawn before the 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

Voters created the commission in 2000 to take the politically charged once-a-decade job of drawing new maps out of the hands of the Legislature.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that cutting lawmakers out of congressional redistricting does not violate the Constitution's Election Clause, which gives state legislatures the power to set the "times, places and manner" of holding congressional elections.

The case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 14-232, will be argued in December or January.