Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services reported yesterday that members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission:
...do not need to answer certain questions from those who are suing them, a federal court has ruled.
The judges accepted the argument by commission attorneys that its members are entitled to the same immunity from having to explain their decisions as state legislators. That allows them to rebuff inquiries from those who are suing them.I'll try to get AIRC staff or counsel to elaborate on this point in the next day or so, but since this story came out on the weekend, I'm not going to bug them yet.
Additionally, the New York Times ran an op-ed today, penned by Princeton University professor of microbiology (who apparently also has some passion for politics) Sam Wang on The Great Gerrymander of 2012.
Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II.
Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you.
Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued a progress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.Professor Wang lumps Arizona in his statistical analysis without examining the additional factors the AIRC must consider when drawing district lines but at least acknowledges the fact that it's an independent commission. Wang also notes that California's independent commission produced results that fit within the outcomes he believes should be expected when partisan gerrymandering is removed from the process.
Because Arizona's independent commission was in its second cycle, and because Republicans so easily dominated that process the first go-round (in 2001), the GOP strategy did not work in our state. But that hasn't stopped them from trying. This blog has record of plenty of instances of those efforts from December 2010 to the present (i.e. UNfair Trust). At this time, they are being highly persistent in their litigation efforts.
And in the federal court lawsuit (reported on by Fischer, at the top of this blog post), I suspect the ruling extending legislative immunity from disclosure of deliberations may be a substantial setback to the GOP plaintiffs and counsel (Cantelme). In their efforts to claim decisions made by the AIRC were done solely or primarily for partisan purposes, they had their sights set to "go a-fishin" in hopes of finding something to substantiate their claims.
It would be silly of me to suggest the likelihood of any particular outcome of the lawsuit at this time, but this preliminary ruling still strikes me as encouraging.
Let's also hope that op-ed columns like the one today in the NYTimes gets more people working on adopting independent redistricting in lots of other states in time for the 2021 cycle.