Democratic House candidates won more nearly 1.4 million more votes than Republicans last November, yet Republicans control the House in part due to widespread gerrymandering in GOP-controlled states. Indeed, a Republican Party report released last January bragged that, by using gerrymandering to rig numerous congressional races, Republican lawmakers “paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.”
This degree of gerrymandering, however, is not enough for the GOP. If a group of Arizona Republican lawmakers get their way, the will of the people will have even less impact on which party controls the House of Representatives.
The lawsuit, filed by Republican legislative leaders in Arizona, claims that a 2000 ballot initiative that gave an Independent Redistricting Commission the power to draw congressional district lines violates the United States Constitution’s statement that “[t]he times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” In essence, they argue that a ballot referendum cannot dictate the state’s redistricting process, only the state legislature is allowed to do so.
This argument is unlikely to succeed. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit explained in a very similar case last year, the Supreme Court “has provided a clear and unambiguous answer to this question, twice explaining that the term ‘Legislature’ in the Elections Clause refers not just to a state’s legislative body but more broadly to the entire lawmaking process of the state.” So, as long as the Arizona referendum was enacted pursuant to the state’s legitimate lawmaking process, it is constitutional.
Nevertheless, if the Arizona Republicans behind this lawsuit draw a panel of sympathetic judges (or justices) who are willing to greenlight their efforts to gerrymander the state, it could drastically alter the balance of Arizona’s congressional delegation (which currently consists of 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans). GOP gerrymandering in six blue or blue-leaning states currently controlled by Republicans produced delegations wildly out of line with voter preferences in those states — in Michigan, for example, where Obama bested Romney by nearly 10 points, Republicans control 9 of 14 House seats: