Score One Against Gerrymandering

Written by SK Ashby

While today's good news has been mixed with bad news, this may be the most consequential decision of all.

The Supreme Court ruled today, in a 5-4 vote, that independent commissions created through ballot initiatives can supplant state legislatures as the arbiter of district lines.

In effect, the court has ruled, in a majority opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that citizens can prevent their legislatures from redrawing lines to create a permanent majority by establishing an independent commission to draw the lines.

"The Framers may not have imagined the modern initiative process in which the people’s legislative power is coextensive with the state legislature’s authority, but the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power," she wrote.

"Banning lawmaking by initiative to direct a State’s method of apportioning congressional districts would do more than stymie attempts to curb partisan gerrymandering, by which the majority in the legislature draws district lines to their party’s advantage. It would also cast doubt on numerous other election laws adopted by the initiative method of legislating."

The most immediate impact of this ruling will be felt in Arizona where a ballot initiative spawned an independent commission to draw district lines.

The conservative state legislature filed a lawsuit challenging the commission's constitutionality, arguing that the "time, place and manner of holding elections" is ultimately the purview of the legislature, but today's Supreme Court ruling set the record straight.

Ginsburg did not leave much open to interpretation in her majority opinion. This is a clear shot across the bow of gerrymandering.