Just in time for Independence Day, California voters won a huge victory this week. The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the use of independent redistricting commissions to draw election districts for members of Congress. The ruling, which will affect voters in California and Arizona, means politicians can no longer draw their own district lines to keep themselves and their friends in office.
Three years ago, Arizona's Republican lawmakers sued in federal court seeking to overturn the amendment, saying the Constitution reserved this power to "the legislature thereof," and this authority may not be taken away. Arizona's Republican Legislature went to court to challenge the decision of their voters, but could not get it passed through the high court.
The 5-4 decision handed down by the Supreme Court said the Constitution did not prevent states from removing power from elected officials and giving it to a nonpartisan board.
With regard to the decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the Constitution allows generous guidelines to states to decide on their own election rules. States like Arizona and California may rely on "direct democracy," which means voters get to decide. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. voted against the independent panel.
In 2008, California voters passed the Voters First Act and transferred the responsibility for drawing political boundaries for the state senate, assembly and Board of Equalization from the state Legislature to a newly formed Citizens Redistricting Commission.
In 2010 voters passed the Voters First for Congress Act, adding congressional districts to the commission’s responsibilities.
While the decision is not as sweeping as other news this week— such as the Supreme Court upholding same-sex marriage—it does bolster voting rights. It is no secret that conservative law makers have passed laws in recent years aimed at disenfranchising voters who are elderly, young and of color. Allowing these same politicians to decide who gets to vote, and in what district only makes it harder to enforce voter fairness.
The Supreme Court ruling is another way to uphold the Constitution which guarantees one person, one vote. So people not only have the right to vote, but the right to be represented by those within their own communities.
So this Independence Day, California voters gained another layer of independence—a nonpartisan commission who will help insure fair representation in Congress. Another victory for democracy. Happy 4th!