The Supreme Court has issued a ruling in favor of independent redistricting commissions in Arizona.
In a 5-4, ruling the United States Supreme Court ruled citizens in Arizona did not remove power from state lawmakers by voting to establish an independent redistricting commission, according to Jane Pinsky – Director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
“The people of Arizona have the right to set up an independent redistricting commission,” she says. “The commission in Arizona was created by citizen initiative, and it was a clear sign that the people of Arizona wanted a fair and impartial process.
“And they didn’t think they were getting that through their legislature.”
Pinsky adds citizens organized a grassroots effort to gain signatures in favor of the referendum’s placement on the ballot. For any North Carolinians with that idea, Pinsky has some bad news.
“We don’t have the right to do a ballot initiative,” Pinksy says of the organizational structure in North Carolina.
Pinsky says since residents of the Tar Heel state do not have the option of placing a citizen-driven referendum on the ballot, the next step for North Carolinians is to lobby elected representatives.
Pinsky adds gerrymandering is an overt way of disenfranchising voters.
“One of the things that we see that has happened as all of this redistricting and all the gerrymandering is that citizens feel like their votes don’t count,” she says. “And, unfortunately, in [about] 40-some percent of the legislative races in this state, that’s absolutely true.
“There was only one person on the ballot.”
For decades Democrats controlled North Carolina politics and could draw the state and congressional districts as they pleased. Now Republicans are in charge and don’t seem apt to giving up the power that comes with their partisan pen.
Local Democratic House Representative Verla Insko says changing demographics may play a large role in the upcoming elections.
“The Republicans that gerrymandered your districts are not all as safe as they used to be,” she says. “House districts are more vulnerable to moving back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.
“The challengers in the House may have an easier path, but that’s also true for the Senate that the population shifts are going to put some pressure on the current Republicans to look seriously at a commission.”
A bill passed the state House in 2011 to create an independent redistricting commission before dying in the Senate. Earlier this year, a large number of bipartisan lawmakers again called for an independent commission. Democratic House Representative Graig Meyer says support in the House is overwhelming from both sides of the aisle.
“There’s broad bipartisan support for this in House,” he says. “There are more than 61 cosponsors of the House bill, so that indicates that it would pass the House easily. The Senate has blocked this type of effort for several years. And it’s pretty clear to me that the Senate is blocking it because the Republicans who lead the Senate are doing everything that they can to hold on to the power that they have.
“That would include blocking [an independent commission] as well as all of the voting restrictions that they have put into place.”
Pinsky says a particular note in the Supreme Court ruling drew her attention.
“There’s a line that says that ‘the Constitution has an animating principle that people themselves are the originating source of all powers of government,’” she says. “In other words, the power doesn’t come from the legislators. The power comes from us.
“Anything that, I think, impedes our ability to freely exercise that power is wrong and undermines our democracy.”
While the Supreme Court ruling does not have a direct impact on North Carolina, it does support the momentum behind independent redistricting commissions that have been established in states including Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio.
It seems the biggest impediment to an independent commission in North Carolina is Republican Senate President Phil Berger.
Senator Berger’s office has not responded to repeated request for comment.