Tea Party loses another high-stakes redistricting fight in SCOTUS

Roger-Rabbit-icon1For the second time in a row, the Supreme Court has rebuffed efforts by Tea Party activists to redraw America’s election maps in favor of rural conservatives. First, let’s quickly review the SCOTUS redistricting jurisprudence of the last half century. In Baker v. Carr (1962), the Court ruled that redistricting is not a nonjusticiable “political question” for legislatures to decide at their whim, but a constitutional issue that courts can decide. Then, in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the Court ruled that legislative districts must be roughly equal in population.

The Tea Party’s first big loss this year was the Court’s refusal to adopt its argument that “population” means registered voters, not warm bodies. This approach, if adopted, would have dramatically shifted political power away from urban centers, which have large minority populations who aren’t registered to vote, to far more conservative rural areas. Now this:

“The Supreme Court upheld an Arizona redistricting commission’s right to draw legislative districts in a way that ensures minority representation, delivering a crushing rebuke on Wednesday to a group of Arizona tea party activists who’d sought to strike down the state’s redistricting maps in order to increase the voting power of rural white voters.”

Oops. Things aren’t going so well for conservatives who want to game the electoral system. To fully understand the import of yesterday’s 9-0 ruling (talk about a “crushing” defeat!), we need to read a bit more about the case’s history:

“In Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the plaintiffs were taking on Arizona’s Independent Election Commission, a body created through a 2000 ballot initiative intended to make redistricting less partisan. The commission produced its first legislative maps after the 2010 census. Its work came under fire almost immediately, primarily by Republicans. At one point, then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) attempted to impeach the commission’s chair in what was seen as a power grab. When that failed, in 2012, the Republican-led state legislature filed a lawsuit arguing that the ballot measure that created the commission was unconstitutional because it deprived the legislature of its redistricting power. The lawsuit went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which last June ruled 5-4 in the commission’s favor.”

Now here’s the real kicker: In this case, the Court left intact redistricting maps meant to comply with provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act it struck down in Shelby County v. Holder (2013)! While the Court isn’t walking back from that decision, this decision is a clear signal that minority voting rights still matter. This implies what the Court rejected in Shelby County was the means, not the goal, of protecting these rights. (Read the story here.)


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