Like so many political events, the
Here, it was a victory for
"In Arizona, the Republicans are upset today, but in California the
The partisan benefits were not terribly clear in the public reactions of elected officials, many of whom skipped over the political fallout to emphasize their support for the Mom-and-apple-pie notion of citizen involvement, enshrined by two ballot measures.
"Today's decision by the nation’s highest court supporting redistricting commissions is a victory for California’s open and publicly accessible redistricting process," state
"California voters overwhelmingly approved Propositions 11 and 20 to take the redistricting process out of the hands of elected officials and give it to an independent body," Senate GOP leader
The measured nature of the responses reflected the limited effect of the Arizona case on California — at most a few seats would have been affected had the court gone the other way. But waiting in the wings is a far more consequential case that will be heard by the high court next year.
That case, Evenwel vs. Abbott, will determine whether district lines are drawn to accommodate a number of residents or a number of eligible voters. The latter category would exclude noncitizens and the young. Many of California's most powerful Democrats represent districts whose outlines would change dramatically were the court to upend tradition in the Texas case.
A court decision to change the defining number from residents to those eligible to vote "would have a massive impact on national redistricting and specifically on the ability to create districts that empower minority groups — Latinos, Asians, even African Americans," said Paul Mitchell, a California redistricting expert.
If applied to congressional elections, Mitchell said, a Texas decision could force the combining of urban districts as they now exist in places like metro Los Angeles and the Bay Area and, apart from California, in states like Texas, Florida and New York. (The same would be true at the legislative level, which are specifically included in the case.)
The result, he said, would be "a major shift in voting power" of Latinos and African Americans. A work-up by Mitchell of the nation's congressional districts demonstrated how dramatic the effect would be of a Texas ruling citing the need for eligible voters.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard's eastside Los Angeles district, for example, would suddenly need an influx of nearly 150,000 eligible voters, as the district would be about half the size it needs to be if those not eligible to vote are brushed aside. Nearby districts are in a similar situation, and thus candidates for combining. (One complication of the Texas case is that it's not clear exactly what would make up an eligible voter; the case refers only to "voters or potential voters" compared to the population at large.)
The winners in the Arizona case announced Monday were Republicans representing districts for which the independent commission drew less-partisan lines than the Democratic Legislature otherwise would have. Among members of Congress, they included Reps.
Democrats also lost an opportunity to strengthen some of their weakest incumbents, including Rep.
Before the independent commission was created, those seats would have been redrawn by Democrats in the Legislature to benefit their party incumbents. Opposition to such gerrymandering was the chief argument of the two ballot measures to put control in the hands of the commission—one in 2008, which controlled legislative line-drawing, and a second in 2010 that extended its power to congressional lines.
"The independent redistricting commissions typically do make life and elections harder for incumbents," Levinson said. "The losers today are self-interested incumbents."