In 2000, Arizona voters passed a ballot measure creating an Independent Redistricting Commission, which handles redistricting for U.S. House and state legislative districts. In 2012, the Arizona legislature filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that Article One of the U.S. Constitution requires that only state legislatures can draw U.S. House district maps. The case is Arizona State Legislature v Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 2:12cv-1211.
Article One, section 4, says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.” The Legislature argues this language means that (unless Congress intervenes), only state legislatures can draw U.S. House district maps. The Legislature says that the language doesn’t talk about state government in general, it says “legislature.”
On the other hand, the Independent Redistricting Commission argues that when the U.S. Constitution says “legislature”, it means any legislative process authorized by state law, and that for purposes of this part of the Constitution, the Independent Redistricting Commission is “the legislature.”
The case was originally being handled by U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt, a Reagan appointee. On August 14, 2013, Judge Rosenblatt determined that this case is suitable for a 3-judge court. On August 23, two more judges were appointed to the panel: Mary M. Schroeder, from the 9th circuit, a Carter appointee; and G. Murray Snow, a Bush Jr. appointee. On September 20, the legislature filed its brief; on October 18, the other side filed its brief.
One would think that after 224 years, the courts would have settled the meaning of the word “legislature” in Article One, but there are precedents suggesting support for each side, and the issue is not truly settled. The case has important implications for the redistricting process in many states, not just Arizona. It also has important implications for other areas of election law. For example, in Ohio in 2008, the Secretary of State promulgated regulations setting the petition for newly-qualifying parties at one-half of 1%, but a federal court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not permit anyone but the legislature to create such rules, so the Secretary of State’s regulation was not enforceable.