Arizona’s 30 legislative districts were legally drawn and can continue to be used through the end of the decade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning.
In a unanimous decision, the justices acknowledged the complaints by challengers that the lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission created districts with unequal populations. And they even conceded that the ones with less population leaned more toward Democrats, a move that could give that party an edge in electing members to the Legislature.
But Justice Stephen Breyer rejected arguments by Republicans, including Secretary of State Michele Reagan, that the unequally populated districts created by commission are unconstitutional.
Instead, Breyer and his colleagues accepted arguments by the commission that their main purpose in drawing the lines the way they did was to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
That law makes it illegal for states to alter voting practices — including district lines — in a way to dilute minority voting strength. And Breyer said there is evidence that the commission wanted to be sure to maintain at least 10 legislative districts where minorities would have at least and ability to elect someone of their choosing.
He did not dispute that the final maps crafted after the 2010 census helped Democrats. But that, Breyer wrote, was just coincidental.
“That fact may well reflect the tendency of minority populations in Arizona in 2010 to vote disproportionately for Democrats,” Breyer wrote.
Challengers had argued that the commission broke the law when it intentionally “packed” non-Hispanic Republicans into some districts.
Using 2010 census figures, each legislative district should have an “ideal” population of about 213,000. But the commission, by its own admission, created districts ranging from 203,026 to 220,157.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, representing Reagan, told the justices such a disparity was inherently unconstitutional, even if done to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The court clearly did not buy that argument.
Separately, attorney Mark Hearne, representing another group of Republicans, argued that the disparities were created for political purposes.
He said the commission moved lines around in a way to remove Republicans from some districts. Hearne argued that left those districts with a higher proportion of Democrats, giving candidates from that party a better chance of getting elected.
Hearne specifically cited Legislative District 8 which stretches from Casa Grande through Florence and the San Tan Valley, all the way to Globe in one corner and Oracle in the other. It also is below the “ideal” population.
Breyer noted, however, that a specialist hired by the commission said making that change would actually create an 11th “ability to elect” district for minorities. That, in turn, would increase the odds that the Department of Justice would give “preclearance” to the maps, something that was required at that time.
As it turned out, the district is far from a Democrat lock. While voters elected Democrat Barbara McGuire to the state Senate, the two House seats are occupied by Republicans Frank Pratt and T.J. Shope.
Breyer acknowledged that the Supreme Court subsequently voided that part of the Voting Rights Act that had required Arizona to get “preclearance” for its maps. But he said that did not invalidate the commission’s decisions.
“At the time, Arizona was subject to the Voting Rights Act, and we have never suggested the contrary,” he wrote.