Case Summary

In an effort to curb gerrymandering, Arizona voters approved an initiative petition in 2000 amending the state's constitution to transfer redistricting authority from the state legislature to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC). After the AIRC adopted new congressional and legislative maps following the 2010 census, the Arizona legislature filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Commission and its maps violated Art. I, Sec. 4 of the U.S. Constitution (the "Elections Clause."). The Elections Clause provides that the "times, places and manner" of holding congressional elections shall be "prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations," and the Arizona Legislature argued that the phrase "by the Legislature thereof" precluded the transfer of redistricting authority to an independent commission created by ballot initiative.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the AIRC, finding that the Elections Clause permitted the citizens of a state to transfer their redistricting authority to an independent commission. The Court began by reiterating its holding from Ohio ex rel. Davis v. Hildebrant that, under both the Elections Clause and federal apportionment statutes, redistricting is a legislative function to be carried out via the state's legislative powers, and then clarified that this would include the initiative process when the state otherwise provides for it. Turning next to the history and purpose of the Elections Clause, the Court explained that it was primarily intended to authorize Congress to override state election rules, not to restrict the way states enact legislation. Furthermore, while the Framers may not have imagined the modern initiative process as equal with the state legislature's authority, the U.S. Constitution as a whole is based upon the principle that the people themselves are the source of governmental power, and it would be "perverse" to interpret "Legislature" in that Clause to exclude lawmaking by the people, particularly when that law is intended to further the directive that congressional representatives be chosen "by the People of the several states."

Significance: The U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause does not prohibit the use of citizen-initiated legislative powers to transfer a state's redistricting authority from the state's legislature to an independent redistricting commission.

Case Library

U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Phoenix Division - 2:12-cv-01211

U.S. Supreme Court - No. 13-1314 [576 U.S. 787 (2015)]