Redistricting panel prepares U.S. Supreme Court filing

California’s voter-approved commission that draws the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts is going to the U.S. Supreme Court to support a similar commission in Arizona, which is locked in a power struggle with its Legislature.

The California action, in the form of a friend-of-the-court brief, is scheduled to be released Friday and posted online, said Stanley Forbes, chair of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, the 14-member panel that determines politicians’ districts.

For decades, the Democrat-controlled California Legislature decided the districts. The Legislatures in three dozen other states continue to do so.

California’s position supports the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which contends that it has the lawful authority to draw state and federal districts, and that Congress “decided a century ago that redistricting should be done pursuant to state law.”

The Arizona Legislature, along with the National Conference of State Legislatures, has challenged the commission’s authority, saying it unconstitutionally usurps legislative power and that state lawmakers have been excluded entirely from the process. The five-member Arizona commission, along partisan lines, had approved new districts in 2011 and was promptly sued by the Legislature.

The case currently is before the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled March 2 before the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling by June.

The Arizona commission — like California’s, it also was approved by voters — has been drawing political boundaries since 2000. Before that, redistricting since the state’s creation in 1912 was conducted entirely by the Legislature, in which lawmakers drew the boundaries of their own districts and legislation authorizing the revised districts required the signature of the governor.

California is watching the case closely.

Federal law requires political political districts to be redrawn by the Legislature once a decade to reflect the population and demographic shifts reported by the census.

California voters in 2008 approved Proposition 11 creating an independent commission — patterned in part after Arizona’s — to draw maps for the Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts. Two years later, voters extended that authority to include House seats, which are federal seats.

The new districts were in effect for the June 2012 primary. The California commission draws the maps for 177 political seats — 120 for the Legislature, 53 for the House and 4 for the Board of Equalization, the state’s powerful tax appeals panel.

For decades, the Democrat-controlled California Legislature decided the districts. The Legislatures in three dozen other states continue to do so.

In California, the process was — and is — intensely partisan, sometimes resulting in the collapse of existing districts that forced incumbents of the same party to face each other. It also created districts with dramatic imbalances in party registration, allowing protections for incumbents and enabling one party to continue supremacy. In effect, candidates can select voters, instead of the other way around.

California voters’ decision to put redistricting in the hands of an independent commission stemmed in part because of years of political gridlock in the Capitol aggravated by incumbent lawmakers from protected districts. Voters also modified lawmakers’ term limits, putting a limit of 12 years of service in the Capitol in either house, or a combination in both houses. House seats are not subject to term limits.

The California commission has five Democrats, five Republicans, and four commissioners from neither major party.


Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: