Who draws the bat­tle lines

The Supreme Court got it right on redistricting re­form: It’s about the vot­ers, not the po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Just a note to those Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party lead­ers who have been spend­ing the last few months sketch­ing new con­gres­sional dis­tricts in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Mon­day’s Supreme Court rul­ing in a case out of Ari­zona: Put down your pen­cils and put away your maps. The court re­jected a chal­lenge to Ari­zona’s redistricting law, so Cal­i­for­nia’s very sim­i­lar process — with an in­de­pen­dent cit­i­zens com­mis­sion in­stead of the state leg­is­la­ture draw­ing dis­tricts — is also safe. Dis­trict lines here are valid. Ger­ry­man­der­ing will not be mak­ing a come­back.

Leg­is­la­tures are dom­i­nated by which­ever party holds the ma­jor­ity, and in Ari­zona that would be the Repub­li­cans, in Cal­i­for­nia the Democrats. With the re­lease of new cen­sus num­bers ev­ery 10 years, the par­ties used to re­draw dis­trict lines with an eye to­ward main­tain­ing their con­trol — not just in the state­house but also in their con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tions.

But Ari­zona vot­ers cut their Leg­is­la­ture ( and there­fore the po­lit­i­cal par­ties) out of the loop in 2000 with a bal­lot ini­tia­tive, and other states fol­lowed suit, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia in 2008 for state of­fices and in 2010 for con­gres­sional of­fices. Cal­i­for­nia’s ex­clu­sion of the par­ties is even more sweep­ing than Ari­zona’s.

The law­suit that made its way to the Supreme Court was the Ari­zona Leg­is­la­ture’s at­tempt to deal it­self back in. For­tu­nately, those Ari­zona Repub­li­can lead­ers failed to con­vince the court’s ma­jor­ity and, in so do­ing, dashed the hopes of their Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts in Cal­i­for­nia. Even vot­ers who strongly sup­port their po­lit­i­cal par­ties have a stake in en­sur­ing that they con­trol those par­ties, and not the other way around.

Cal­i­for­nia’s redistricting re­form was in­sti­gated by in­de­pen­dents and mem­bers of var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal par­ties but with a spe­cial push from Repub­li­cans, who seemed cer­tain that a fairer process would re­sult in their cap­tur­ing more seats. Oth­ers hoped that an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion would re­sult in more com­pet­i­tive races and the elec­tion of more mod­er­ate politi­cians from ei­ther of the ma­jor par­ties. If those were the only mea­sures of the suc­cess of the Cal­i­for­nia Cit­i­zens Redistricting Com­mis­sion, the re­sults have been dis­ap­point­ing. There has been some theater, such as the 2012 bat­tle be­tween re­dis­tricted Demo­cratic Con­gress­men Howard Ber­man and Brad Sher­man ( Sher­man pre­vailed), but no huge turnover.

But party turnover and po­lit­i­cal mod­er­a­tion were never — or ought never to have been — any­thing more than pos­si­ble side ef­fects. The point of redistricting re­form is to en­sure that elec­tions more fully ex­press the will of vot­ers, not the par­ties. It is a work in progress that will con­tinue to be re­fined as long as party lead­ers seek power and vot­ers push back.

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