Court ruling could jeopardize California redistricting

California and Arizona are two states that couldn’t be further apart in temperament and size.

But in one crucial issue – the drawing of political boundaries – they are joined at the hip, as California’s redistricting commission made clear Friday to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Traditionally, the drawing of political boundaries has been highly partisan, with the party in power in the Legislature seeking to solidify its position.

Voters in both states have stripped authority over redistricting from their Legislatures and turned it over instead to an independent, voter-approved commission. Arizona took the step in 2000; California in 2008 and expanded it in 2010, to include congressional seats. A half dozen states have independent redistricting commissions – Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and California.

In Arizona, the Legislature, its members contending they have been excluded from redistricting, challenged the commission as unconstitutional and went to court to dismantle it. The case has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which is all but certain to issue a ruling by the end of June.

California, in its filing with the high court, declared its support for the Arizona commission, and noted that if the Supreme Court rules against the Arizona panel, the voter-approved commission in California will be put at risk.

“Any decision by this Court holding that Arizona’s redistricting process, enacted by initiative, violates federal law would place in jeopardy California’s own redistricting process,” the California Citizens Redistricting Commission told the Supreme Court in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday.

“The people’s power to legislate by initiative and referendum is guaranteed in both California’s and Arizona’s Constitutions, and the power to legislate by initiative and referendum has been recognized by this Court as demonstrating devotion to democracy and innovation,” the brief noted.

Traditionally, the drawing of political boundaries has been highly partisan, with the party in power in the Legislature seeking to solidify its position. The drawing up maps is required once a decade to account for shifts in population reflected in the census.

Despite their differences in size and politics, California’s redistricting commission has its roots in the Arizona panel, which was used as a model when the California commission was created.

The California commission has five Democrats, five Republicans, and four commissioners from neither major party. The panel draws maps for 177 districts – 120 for the Legislature, 53 for Congress and four for the Board of Equalization.

The Arizona commission has five members, with no more than two from the same political party. Four members are chosen by the leaders of each house of the Legislature. The four who are chosen then select the fifth member. The panel draws boundaries for 30 legislative districts and nine congressional districts.

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