Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, November 2, 2015

Redistricting -- Motions and Amicus Briefs in Harris case

Two intriguing motions were filed on Friday to divvy up oral argument time in the upcoming hearing on December 8 before SCOTUS.

The Department of Justice requested (and the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission agreed to a grant of) 10 minutes of the Appellees' allotted 30 minutes of the hearing.
The brief argues that appellants [Harris, et. al.] failed to carry their initial burden of producing evidence sufficient to infer that the deviations in Arizona’s plan resulted from invidious partisan discrimination. Appellants’ minimal showing of political influence in the design of the map did not negate the presumption that the population disparities were the byproduct of legitimate districting criteria. In similar circumstances, this Court has recognized that federal courts should not conduct an intrusive judicial inquiry into the justification for the disparities.
The 49-page DOJ brief further states,
1. Drawing legislative districts is a quintessential state sovereign function. Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 915 (1995). States therefore have considerable discretion to engage in the balancing and compromises inherent in the districting process—subject to the requirements of the Constitution and federal law. Ibid.
As relevant here, the Equal Protection Clause requires States to draw legislative districts that are substantially equal in population. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 568 (1964). The VRA imposes additional obligations...
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, on the other hand, also requested (and counsel for Harris agreed to a grant of) 10 minutes of the Appellants' allotted 30 minutes of the hearing claiming that she has a distinct approach to present to show how the legislative maps are unconstitutional. That, of course, is a claim she hopes to be able to argue... but I can't see how she can do so persuasively.

On the surface, Reagan's position as Secretary of State, which should be a neutral position overseeing elections in Arizona, is nothing more than a ploy to exacerbate the one-party dominant political structure.

Additional amicus briefs were filed.

The Navajo Nation brief summarized its argument thus,
Amici agree with Appellee Independent Redistricting Commission (“Commission”) that the population deviations in Arizona’s 2012 legislative map (“Legislative Plan”) are permissible under this Court’s jurisprudence and that Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013) is not applicable here. Moreover, Amici are concerned that if the Court grants relief that the framework for legislative redistricting will change, negatively impacting many Indian voters who only recently secured the right to vote.
Seven former DOJ officials who had responsibility for enforcing the Voting Rights Act also filed a brief. Their interests are specified,
Collectively, they served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and oversaw the preclearance of redistricting plans following the last five Censuses.
Amici have a unique and valuable perspective on the breadth of preclearance requests made prior to this Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013) and the practical effects should this Court decide that the goal of achieving preclearance prior to Shelby County was not a “legitimate” or “rational” interest. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 579 (1964). Each amici also has intimate knowledge of the preclearance procedures and protocols for submissions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act prior to this Court’s decision in Shelby County.
They summarize their arguments, in part, thus,
Appellants urge this Court to hold that achieving Section 5 preclearance approval was not a legitimate or rational justification for the minor population deviations. Appellants’ arguments are misguided and the repercussions of the holding they request would be significant.
The Commission’s goal of complying with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act’s non-retrogression standard and achieving preclearance on the first attempt was a reasonable policy goal with the practical benefits of conserving resources and protecting its sovereign control over the vital function of redistricting. It was both “legitimate” and “rational” and easily justified the minor population deviations in the redistricting plan. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 579 (1964). Indeed, avoiding retrogression, quite apart from preclearance,is a reasonable and legitimate goal. [...]
The holding Appellants urge the Court to adopt is incorrect, unnecessary, and would disrupt political stability across the country. [...]
Therefore, if this Court were to hold that compliance with Section 5 was not a rational or legitimate consideration, over a thousand redistricting plans would be open to legal challenges, creating massive instability in the political process in States throughout the nation. Put differently, if Shelby County is given the effect that Appellants seek, over a thousand redistricting plans potentially would be open to constitutional equal apportionment challenges (notwithstanding the inclusion of only minor population deviations in the plans). The potential impact of Appellants’ suggested rule cannot be understated. [...]
The Commission therefore acted reasonably by selecting a map that both satisfied Section 5 and the one-person, one-vote principle under this Court’s precedent. The Court should affirm the district court’s sound decision.
This brief seems to blow Reagan's position clean out of the water.

Then there's the brief submitted by Princeton University professor Samuel Wang. Dr. Wang,
...operates the Princeton Election Consortium blog, which since 2004 has been devoted to statistical analysis of election processes and predictions (see http://election.princeton.edu/).
and summarizes his argument thus,
This brief proposes that gerrymandering claims like the one in this case should be analyzed by looking at the statewide effect of a redistricting plan, and it offers a method for doing so that is simple, elegant, and well-suited to the task. The method is to compare each party’s vote in the median district with each party’s average (mean) vote across all districts. A large spread between these two percentages shows that one party’s voters have been packed into some districts, signaling a gerrymandered advantage for the other party. In this case there is no such spread, and in fact Republicans, who are claimed to have been victimized by gerrymandering, are shown to be the modest beneficiaries of the redistricting plan. (emphasis mine)
Wang concludes,
In sum, because the results of Arizona’s elections are inconsistent with the existence of an effective anti-Republican partisan gerrymander, this Court should reject appellants’ argument insofar as it relies on any such intention by the Commission to disadvantage Republicans.
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By the way, I do not plan to attend the oral arguments hearing this time.

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