PHOENIX — Secretary of State Michele Reagan has joined with Republican interests in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to void the state’s legislative redistricting plan.
In new filings with the high court, attorneys for Reagan point out the population differences among the 30 legislative districts created in 2011 by the Independent Redistricting Commission. They said this raises constitutional questions because it effectively gives voters in some districts more power than others.
But what’s particularly problematic, they said, is that the disparity was done deliberately to achieve a result of improving the chances of Democrats getting elected to the Legislature.
“It suggests, if not proves, a built-in bias in the IRC’s redistricting process,” her attorneys wrote.
In filing her own brief, Reagan has aligned herself with fellow Republicans who want the Supreme Court to rule the commission acted unconstitutionally. And her arguments mirror those advanced by Mark Hearne who is representing Republicans who sued the commission over the maps.
In his own filing, Hearne conceded to the justices there is nothing unconstitutional about drawing district lines to benefit one party or the other. But he said districts have to be of equal population.
“The problem is that the commission unequally apportioned Arizona voters with the intent of creating an advantage for the Democrat party,” he wrote. And Hearne said the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections “demonstrate the intention to confer a benefit upon the Democrat party was realized.”
If Reagan and the Republicans get the court to side with them, that would force the five-member panel to start over again. And that likely would mean remapping the entire state.
Whether that could happen in time for the 2016 election remains unclear: The justices may not rule on the case until the spring, long after candidates will have filed to run in the August primary.
Whatever the effective date, if the commission is forced to realign the districts, that could pave the way to even larger Republican majorities than the 17-13 they have in the Senate and the 36-24 edge in the House.
Central to the issue is the claim the commission intentionally “packed” non-Hispanic Republicans into some districts so the remaining districts had a higher proportion of Democrats. That would give candidates from that party a better chance of getting elected.
Hearne said the numbers bear out his contention.
Assuming the state’s population was equally divided by 30, each district should have about 213,000 residents. But Hearne said some Republican districts had more than 221,000 residents; five Democrat districts had fewer than 205,000.
The majority of a three-judge panel meeting in Phoenix conceded the population differences. They even acknowledged some of the lines were drawn to benefit Democrats.
But they accepted arguments by commission attorneys all that was done in hopes of ensuring that the U.S. Department of Justice, which had to “preclear” the maps, would find them in compliance the federal Voting Rights Act and its mandate to not dilute minority voting strength.
Hearne said nothing in that federal law requires states to create unequal districts to comply.
He also pointed out to the justices that since the original 2011 redistricting they voided the whole preclearance section of the law.
Reagan’s decision to intercede now comes as a bit of a surprise.
By law, the secretary of state, as Arizona’s chief elections officer, is named as a defendant in any matter involving election laws. Her predecessor, Ken Bennett, took no position on the constitutionality of the redistricting plan when the challenge was first filed in 2011.
Reagan, though her attorneys, said she felt the need to weigh in because of what she believed were “multiple errors” by the three-judge panel that upheld the lines.
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